"They wanted us to disappear, to vanish," Carletta Tilousi told me hotly in my meeting with the tribal council. "Like the Anasazi—who they say disappeared too. Well, we didn't vanish, and the Anasazi didn't either. We are the Anasazi."
"And the true spiritual guardians of the canyon," added Dianna Uqualla, the council's vice-chairwoman. "Not just this canyon, but the entire Grand Canyon. That was our home, you see. We pray every day for its protection."
Uqualla, an amply built woman, then grasped her stout prayer stick trimmed with beads and feathers and guided me from the tribal chambers to the village outside.
Most of the tribe's farmland is rich bottomland that borders Havasu Creek and is fenced to keep out tourists and horses. Behind the fences are the houses and peach orchards, the freshly plowed fields ready for planting, and other fields where the corn was up a good ten inches. Every house had a corral full of horses.
"Oh, yes, we're a horsey people," Uqualla said, when I commented on their numbers. Just then her son came trotting by on a white horse, Spirit, her two-year-old grandson balanced in front. "That horse just loves my grandson,"she laughed. The honeyed fragrance of cottonwood blossoms hung in the air, and Uqualla inhaled deeply. She'd returned that day from a trip.
"My heart just cries for this place when I'm gone," she said, surveying the soaring red walls that held the village and its green gardens in a close embrace. "I came around that last bend this morning and all the good scents hit me.
I knew then that I was home."
Home. The Anasazi must have felt this too, when climbing down their trails to the bottom of the canyon. There were their farms, their homes, the people and places that held their hearts. It was good to know some of them felt it still—this grand feeling of being at home in the Grand Canyon.