Havasu Falls in Arizona has become the ultimate Instagram flex for travelers, travel writers, travel influencers, photographers, celebrities, and models. The pale blue waters against the red rock cliffs have become a wildly popular backdrop of the travel world in the Instagram Age. Tourism is so important to Havasupai Nation that even though it’s not open in the winter, it accounts for 75 percent of all jobs.
Well much like Lennie Small and his rabbit in Of Mice and Men, the same avid travelers who forced Havasu to go to a lottery ticketing model were squeezing the falls and its traditional owners to a metaphorical death by not stopping their trips in the wake of a pandemic. This put an extremely at-risk community with severe and deeply rooted health issues in danger of an outbreak of the coronavirus — which was already raging around the world. If the virus were to take hold in the community, the results would be devastating.
So the Havasupai Nation, located literally inside the Grand Canyon, took drastic measures and completely shut down their main source of revenue and stopped allowing backpackers onto their Nation and into the falls. They announced that the falls would close on March 16th and remain inaccessible for at least one month. Naturally, there were still travelers seeking that Instagram flex until the last minute on March 15th, even though the Havasupai were offering free rescheduling for permits, but the bigger question soon became: “what does one of America’s most remote and poorest communities do when it has to shut down its own revenue stream?”
Havasupai Nation is so remote that all food and medical supplies need to be either packed or helicoptered in. A one-month closure of the falls will result in a seven percent loss in revenue for Havasupai Nation, and that’s the best-case scenario.
To fight this economic downturn and isolation, Ethel Branch — a Diné attorney and leader — has set up a GoFundMe to financially support Havasupai. The fund aims to funnel money into the remote nation by helping them buy bulk food and medical supplies. In doing so, Branch is giving travelers the chance to pay back (and pay forward) the community that supported their epic adventures and beloved blue-water photos.
We can hear you ask, “isn’t the federal $2 trillion bail out going to help Indigenous nations across the country?” Yes and no. That package does include $1.03 billion of emergency funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS). That figure is basically one-half of what Indigenous nations asked for. Moreover, the IHS is already woefully underfunded. It should receive around $36.8 billion yearly to deal with regular medical issues facing America’s Indigenous people. In 2020, Congress only allotted the IHS $6 billion, underfunding the service drastically. So an additional $1 billion still means the IHS is working from a massive deficit to deal with day-to-day medical service. And that’s without a pandemic in play. If people start getting sick in Supai Village, that’s a whole new can of worms. (It’s also important to keep in mind that the money allotted to the IHS is meant to cover millions of people across 574 Indigenous nations.)
This GoFundMe is crucial to help the Havasupai Nation weather this viral storm. We at UPROXX — who named “Visiting Havasu Falls The Right Way” our #1 hot list experience of 2020 — believe that travelers, travel writers, models, and travel influencers owe a debt to this community. It’s time for us all to step up.