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Freefall: Tragedy in the Grand Canyon

Arizona's Havasu Canyon is a hiker's paradise famed for its jaw-dropping waterfalls. But now there's trouble in paradise—serious trouble.

"I am not speaking up because of Randy—whatever he did is on him," said Wescogame, who states he is "about 50" years old and father to 11 children that he "knows of for sure." Wescogame said he was coming forward to protect his other children from the village juvenile delinquents. "They’re trying to beat up my daughter and my other kids. They go to parties and come home all bloody. One boy recently chopped up another boy with a machete."

Wescogame blames the violence on alcohol (which is illegal on the reservation), police who don’t enforce the law, parents who don’t discipline their children, and an entrenched bootlegging business.

Wescogame comes from one of the Havasupai families that just a century ago had the entire Grand Canyon to themselves. He said his great-grandfather was Billy Burro, the last Havasupai holdout in the national park, who farmed Indian Garden until he was physically evicted by park rangers in 1934. Wescogame is also the village tattoo artist; his body is covered with his handiwork, including swastikas on his forearms and the letters "l.o.v.e." on his fingers. He likes to sit out front and carve pieces of cottonwood while listening to reggae. He whittled a cross and put it at Hanamure’s murder site last May, before he knew his own son may have been involved.

"You tourists, you white people, you don’t have any rights down here. Your civil rights are gone when you cross that white cattle guard," he said. "We are self-governed, a sovereign nation, and most of your laws don’t apply here."

But just to clarify that he wasn’t singling out tourists, Wescogame said Supai was like a "concentration camp" for tribal members. He said people live in fear of the thugs and drug dealers. "Nobody has rights down here."

Eventually, Roland Manakaja, a medicine man who others describe as the spiritual voice of the tribe, decided to talk to me. He’s the great-grandson of Chief Manakaja, the last man to serve as chief before the tribe converted to a council form of government in 1934 in compliance with federal regulations. Roland is not a member of the Tribal Council, but he is highly respected throughout the community and seems almost like a de facto chief.

I was discreetly escorted by a tribal member to Manakaja’s homestead at the edge of town. He is a big man, full of sagelike loopiness. He sat in a small school chair in his yard, his long hair in a ponytail, gazing out at the rock formations at the top of the canyon—"the deities" that talk to him. "We are struggling to survive here, fighting against a lot of things brought in from the white man’s culture—uranium mining, alcohol, meth," he said. "These things are impacting our youth and throwing our world, the whole world, out of balance." Manakaja is concerned about a proposed uranium mine at Red Butte, which is on Forest Service land and a Havasupai sacred site, a place they visit for spiritual renewal.

"We are struggling to survive here, fighting against a lot of things brought in from the white man’s culture—uranium mining, alcohol, meth," he said. "These things are impacting our youth and throwing our world, the whole world, out of balance." Manakaja is concerned about a proposed uranium mine at Red Butte, which is on Forest Service land and a Havasupai sacred site, a place they visit for spiritual renewal."Out there, in the white world, you have all these problems," too. But they are magnified down here," he said.

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