Wallenda Makes Crossing Despite Tribal Objections

Angers Hopi people

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    Photo: prochasson frederic/Shuttestock.

Nik Wallenda completed his tightrope walk across the Little Colorado Sunday, a gorge repeatedly referred to as "near the Grand Canyon." What was often left out is that the gorge is on Navajo Nation land and that the nearby Hopi people, who hold the area as a site of sacred importance, strongly objected to the stunt.

The nearby Hopi claim they were never consulted about the walk, despite an agreement between the tribes to honor religious sites. “The Gorge and the Canyon are not about taking lives,” Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, told the news outlet Indian Country Today. “We were told that this guy is not wanting to wear a safety harness. What if he does fall? It’s another cultural dilemma for the Hopi people.”

Wallenda worked with Navajo Nation after the National Park Service refused to grant access to the Grand Canyon. Representatives of the service claimed that events “must not unreasonably impair the park’s atmosphere of peace and tranquility,” noting that stunts “don’t meet that [criteria].”

Wallenda spent more than 10 months seeking clearance to perform on Navajo Nation land, and his team agreed to clean up the remnants of Philippe Petit’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the gorge in 1988 as well as to construct a paved road and parking lot—paid for by NBC—into the previously inaccessible area in return for permission.

“I have been praying for improvements to Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park ever since I started,” Navajo Nation Park Manager Helen Webster announced. “It is amazing to know just how many people from throughout the world will be able to catch a glimpse of our beautiful Navajo culture. After they see the video, I hope they will want to visit the Navajo Nation.”

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