Arizona: Southern Paiute


Today the Southern Paiute Indians live on ten reservations in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The San Juan Southern Paiute live in and around Tuba City on the Navajo Reservation. They are in the process of petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for tribal lands.

The Southern Paiute’s traditional territory included much of southern Nevada, northern Arizona, and southern Utah. They were a hunter-gatherer society that developed some farming.

The Southern Paiute’s language is similar to that of the Pima and Papago cultures.

When the Spanish arrived they took Paiute boys and men and sold them as slaves to the miners in Central Mexico.

The Southern Paiutes quickly lost their land in the 1800s and became laborers and craftsmen.

“” The traditions of our people are handed down from father to son. The Chief is considered to be the most learned, and the leader of the tribe. The Doctor, however, is thought to have more inspiration. He is supposed to be in communion with spirits… He cures the sick by the laying hands, and prayers and incantations and heavenly songs. He infuses new life into the patient and performs most wonderful feats of skill in his practice….He clothes himself in the skins of young innocent animals, such as the fawn, and decorated himself with the plumage of harmless birds, such as the dove and the hummingbird…”
Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute

Havasupai Nation
Today, about 430 people live in Supai. About a hundred children attend its day school, which they can attend through eighth grade.

In 1974 uranium was discovered on the Havasupai Reservation. The tribe tried to stop the mining of uranium at its sacred site on Red Butte, but the Supreme Court ruled against the tribe and mining was permitted. Much of the Havasupai economy today is based on tourism.

The Havasupai are descendents of the Hohokam culture. They were called the “people of the blue-green water.” It is estimated that there were about 300 Havasupai in 1680. Their Yuman dialect has a lot in common with that spoken by the Hualapai and Yavapai peoples.

The Havasupai once occupied the northern edge of the Tonto basin in central Arizona. During the summer months the Havasupai farmed, ranched, and hunted on the plateau. They moved into the canyons during the winter, where they grew corn, beans, and squash. They also mined red ocher, a form of much sought after ceremonial paint, for trade.

The Havasupai always had friendly relations with the Hopi, and trade was common between the two tribes.

Around 1840 miners and cattle ranchers moved into Havasupai territory. The tribe’s economic system was destroyed as their hunting and grazing lands were taken.

Social organization
The Havasupai were polygamists; they could have as many wives as they could support. Betrothals were arranged by purchase and divorces granted only in the case of infidelity. The tribe was patriarchal; unusual for Southwest tribes. Extended families formed the basis of the Havasupai social and political culture. Each family acted as an independent economic unit and performed all the tasks required to survive. As many as ten families would form a regional band for mutual support. Each family in the band had similar status, but individual family members could demonstrate specific skills to increase his/her status.

The Havasupai are the only one of the Yuman speaking tribes of the Hohokam culture that took on aspects of the Pueblo People.