Another Side of Native American Spirituality
by Lorna Salzman
I had seen photos of the famous Skywalk over the Grand Canyon years ago and I marvelled at how one native American tribe had made so much progress in emulating the worst commercialism of white America.
The Hualapai Indians whose reservation adjoins the Canyon remain in severe poverty as do many other tribes. The tribes have sought different means of surviving: some by casinos and others by allowing corporate exploitation of their mineral riches such as coal, oil, gas and uranium. In the case of the Hualapai, their casino venture failed due to the proximity of Las Vegas, so they sought and received outside funding for what they still hope will be a major popular resort and entertainment complex, with hotels, a golf course and other middle-American attractions.
The first part of this was the Skywalk, a semi-circular walkway jutting seventy feet out over the Canyon, with a see-through floor that looks down thousands of feet. This is not the first commercial intrusion onto the silent majesty of the Canyon, one of the wonders of the world. Sight-seeing helicopters and planes cross the air space above the canyon to give people their own special view without the distraction of the sounds of birds and wind. Years ago the musician Paul Winter gave a concert in the Canyon, to pay tribute to its miraculous beauty. I didn't attend but I thought it ironic that this spiritually oriented nature lover/musician would think that music could in any way enhance the visual experience offered by the unadorned canyon.
Well, none of that old fashioned sentiment suited the native Americans. The Canyon, they probably reasoned, belonged as much to them as anyone else or to the ages, so why shouldn't they take advantage of it? Presto, the Skywalk and lots of tourist money. As for the rest of the Disneyworld-on-the-Colorado, the tribe and its original benefactor are now sparring over when the rest of this solid gold all-American dream will materialize.
Meanwhile, the Hualapai are raking in the dollars from half a million visitors a year, who pay up to $73 to go out onto the Skywalk, $129 for helicopter tours, and $2000. for Indian headdresses at the gift shop. Annual revenues are now in the millions of dollars, with a lot more anticipated if their fight with the original investor ever gets resolved. It is a heartwarming story of how the most disadvantaged among us can pull themselves up by their moccasin straps in the time-tested American way to attain the American dream. Truly, the Hualapai can drum or strum "My Way" with pride.
After a cross-country camping trip in the early 1970s, I felt I had seen two utterly inexplicable phenomena:the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Now they may be about to merge. Perhaps one day there will be a paved superhighway between the Hualapai resort and Las Vegas, to replace the rutted dirt road that is there today and attract gamblers who are ready to spend some of their winnings on the Skywalk's attractions, so they can go back home and boast of having undergone a great nature experience.