Nik Wallenda at Grand Canyon

Tightrope Legend Stirs up Mixed Feelings in the Navajo Nation

This summer, the Discovery Channel will air one of the most daring live events in history when legendary tightrope walker Nik Wallenda attempts to tightrope walk 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. This remote section is on the Navajo tribal land and houses a protected and deeply sacred site by the Hopi and other tribes.

Nik Wallenda at Grand CanyonWallenda last made headlines in 2012 when he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls which was only 200 feet above ground. But height is not the only difference: Wallenda wore a safety harness over Niagara Falls, but chooses not to wear one during the Grand Canyon stunt.

Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation officials anticipate the event as an opportunity to showcase their part of the Grand Canyon which would allow them to offer more Grand Canyon activities and therefore increase visitation. According to a Navajo Parks and Recreation spokeswoman, the visitation in this part of the Grand Canyon is very low and more visitors would be very welcome to join the Grand Canyon tours and explore Navajo Nation’s history and culture. The spectacle airs on June 23 and is expected to reach 13 million viewers nationwide.

But not everyone is as excited. Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office is concerned with the cultural aspect of this event. The Hopi Tribe has recognized the Little Colorado River as a substantial clan migration path. It represents the spiritual life of their ancestral people. According to Kuwanwisiwma, the emphasis is on life, not taking lives, which could happen if Wallenda doesn’t wear a safety harness. Kuwanwisiwma also said that the death of a base jumper in the area last year presented a cultural problem to the Hopi people as well as to the nearby living Navajos.

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For Wallenda, the event represents a personal triumph. Besides fulfilling a lifelong dream to walk at such a great height, it will also provide the opportunity to honor his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, who died after a fall from a tightrope in 1978.

In a recent Discovery Channel press release Wallanda stated that the stakes don’t get much higher than this, since the only thing that stands between him and the bottom of the canyon is a two-inch thick wire.

Spectators will be allowed to gather at Navajo Tribal Park near Cameron, but space will be limited.  Fans are advised to show up no later than noon to watch the 6 p.m. walk. The tightrope stunt which is expected to last about 40 minutes is hailed as the most nail-biting “Grand Canyon Things to Do” event this summer.

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