Some Grand Canyon National Park officials ask, “Why are the Zunis so interested in the Grand Canyon?” The Zuni Tribe, located in New Mexico about 300 miles away from the park seems significantly distant from the national park’s boundaries. Could the Zuni possibly have sacred sites within the national park?
“According to the ceremonial practices, our people have ventured very, very far,” says Curtis Quam, of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. A:shiwi is the name that the Zuni people call themselves.
Ceremonial practices help convey the A:shiwi/Zuni story of emergence and migration. The A:shiwi/Zuni creation story tells how the ancestors climbed up from the world below on a reed to emerge at a place in the Grand Canyon. That sacred place is now called Ribbon Falls, about six miles up Bright Angel Canyon, north of Phantom Ranch.
In the ancestors’ quest for “Middle Place” they eventually followed Bright Angel Creek downstream to the Colorado River. They continued upstream on the Colorado River to the confluence of the Little Colorado River (LCR).
“The Little Colorado River is the Road to Zuni,” explains Quam, Museum Technician. The LCR, one of two major tributaries of the Colorado River in Arizona, flows into the Grand Canyon north of Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park. From the confluence, the ancestors followed the LCR until they divided into two groups.
One group journeyed northward and built villages in places now named Navajo National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. The other group followed the Road to Zuni for over 300 miles along the LCR to the confluence of the Zuni River. Keeping to the 90-mile Zuni River, they finally arrived at Middle Place or as Zunis’ say “Halona: Wa” the place where their village is today.
Ancestral sites located in the Grand Canyon such as the Nankoweap granaries depicted on the upcoming America the Beautiful quarter “are reminders to our people that our ancestors were there. We know this place is sacred,” says Quam. Zuni people still make pilgrimages into the Grand Canyon to venerate sacred sites such as Ribbon Falls.
To get an authentic version of the emergence and migration story (as opposed to this Anglo interpretation), go to A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center located in Halona:wa/Zuni for an oral rendition. The museum displays a set of mural panels depicting scenes from the emergence and migration of the A:shiwi to Halona:wa. Call 505.782.4403 to make an appointment for Quam to make a presentation while you are there. The oral presentations can be done in Zuni or Zuni and English.
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