Long before there were toll booths and visitor centers, there were Native Americans who lived off the land in its natural state. Times may have changed, but there are still plenty of opportunities to explore the way Native Americans once lived. For history buffs wanting to learn more about Native Americans, or travelers who want to take a different type of tour of the country, there are several places where you can still engage with Native American Culture. Here are a few of our favorites.
Heard Museum, Arizona
The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, has become known internationally for the quality of its collections, its educational programming, and its festivals. Its partnerships with tribes gives Native Americans a chance to express their personal voice and tell their stories through the arts. Check out exhibits like the American Indian Ledger Art, comprising of stories and scenes by contemporary artists inspired by 19th century recordings of achievements on animal hide. The upcoming exhibit, “Beautiful Games: American Indian Sports and Art” provides a look at pivotal role sports like surfing, canoeing, cross-country running and lacrosse played in American Indian tribal communities.
Crow Fair and Rodeo Montana
The Crow Fair and Rodeo in Montana is considered one of the biggest gatherings for the Apsaalooke people. Many cultural activities take place during this one-week fair, considered the largest modern day American Indian encampment in the nation. It’s often called the “Teepee capital of the world,” because of the 1,200 to 1,500 teepees at the fair encampment. The evening powwow allows for everyone to see the beauty of each of the participating tribes and their individual dance styles. There’s a daily parade, an all-Indian rodeo, and Indian relay horse races. The event wraps up with the “Parade Dance,” meant as a prayer for good things to come to the Crow Tribe, future camps, and the coming year.
Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
It’s home to big horn sheep, mule deer and other wild things, but the most spectacular thing you’ll see at Big Horn Canyon in Montana is the sheer colorful cliffs that rise 1,000 feet above a tumultuous river. This breathtaking canyon was sacred to the Crow tribe. Maybe below the dramatic cliffs you’ll catch a glimpse of some of the evil spirits that stories from the Crow Tribe said lived in the canyon. The remnants of Bad Trail Pass following the canyon’s edge can still be seen. The pass was used as an alternative to crossing the mountains or traveling the river.
Gathering of Nations in New Mexico
The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, began 31 years ago as a way to dispel myths and bring to light the true contributions of the Native American peoples to society. It’s now become one of the biggest Native American powwows in the country. Expect more than 3,000 indigenous dancers and singers representing more than 500 tribes from Canada and the United States to participate socially and competitively. The event features competition for traditional singing and dancing and also the Miss Indian World Competition. Peruse authentic Indian Arts and Crafts from more than 800 artists, crafters and traders at the Indian Trader’s Market.
Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana
There’s no way to get closer to the Native American culture than to live it. Cheyenne Elders Camp tour will allow you to live using old tribal ways. Join NDN2Rs tour guides at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana, and learn how to raise a teepee, cook using traditionally-derived foods, find plants and learn their uses, hear traditional and historical stories from a Native American view, and learn some of the language. A Cheyenne spiritual guide and his family will instruct participants in the ways of their people. Participants will also learn about how each member contributes and will discover their own role in the circle. For the comfort-inclined, be forewarned: there are no little lime verbena soap bars or lavender lotions here. This immersion experience is for the tourist who wants an authentic experience.
Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
It’s the ultimate in cliff side dwelling with a view, but it’s not an easy find. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was once the home of the ancestral Pueblo people, who lived there for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300. Currently, there are 5,000 archeological sites there including 500 cliff dwellings. Check out Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling, Cliff Palace, on a one-hour ranger tour that involves climbing eight 10-ft. ladders on a 100-ft. vertical climb. Or explore the best preserved cliff dwelling, Spruce Tree House. The one-hour tour involves a 100-ft. descent and ascent on a winding path, so casual observers may want to take in the vistas from the viewpoints.