The Shutdown News Isn't All Bad For A Few American Indian Tribes

NPR icon by Laurel Morales
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Laurel Morales

Grand Canyon National Park is closed for the government shutdown, but tourists determined to see it can take in views from reservation land. The Hualapai Tribe owns Grand Canyon West, where visitors can venture onto a Plexiglass horseshoe walkway that stretches out over the chasm below.

On the east side of the Grand Canyon, visitors are flocking to the Navajo Nation, where Nita Rodriguez gives a tour.

She takes a dozen dusty travelers through a narrow opening in a wall of red Navajo sandstone. They step inside what's known as a slot canyon in the middle of the Arizona desert. Visitors point their cameras toward the light that shines down into Antelope Canyon — the often forgotten stepchild of the nearby Grand Canyon.

Tour companies have had to come up with alternatives to the Grand Canyon, one of more than 400 national parks shut down. Antelope Canyon is finally getting the attention it deserves.

"Out of the blue, there's all kinds of companies we've never heard of that's just popping up everywhere — tour companies," she says. "They're booking like 40 to 50 people at a time."

The boost in tourism for a handful of northern Arizona tribes comes as some other tribes brace for the worst during the government shutdown. Some have seen cuts to food distribution, child care and financial assistance.

Gib Egge and his college tour group from Illinois had been planning for a year and half to tour the national parks of the Southwest.

"A lot of us were pretty devastated. So as Plan B went into effect, fortunately, there's a lot of tribal land here, which is just as beautiful I believe as the national park land," he says.

Mariluisa Caricchia and her husband, Andrea, are also exploring tribal land for the first time. The newlyweds traveled from Italy to spend their honeymoon at the Grand Canyon.

"That was a pity because it was a long travel to come here only for once time in a life," Mariluisa says. "I don't know if we will come back again here."

'A Piece Of The Pie'

At Chief Tsosie's Trading Post, owner Ray Tsosie says he and his Antelope Canyon guides are ecstatic about the spike in tourism.

"We all get a piece of the pie, and we all are hopefully going to be well fed this winter," Tsosie says.

Havasupai families will also be well fed this winter. Hundreds of hikers are trekking into Supai Village to photograph the majestic waterfalls inside the Grand Canyon. Havasupai Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy says he's seen four times the number of visitors than usual this time of year.

"Tourism is the backbone of the tribe. We really don't have any other economic development," he says.

Putesoy says the tribe's travel office was about to make a round of layoffs, but the surge in tourism means workers can stay on the job a few more weeks.

This story comes to us from Fronteras, a public radio collaboration reporting on the American Southwest.

Copyright 2013 FRNTRS. To see more, visit http://www.fronterasdesk.org/.

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