​​8 Places to Appreciate Indigenous Culture in the United States

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​​8 Places to Appreciate Indigenous Culture in the United States

There are approximately 5.2 million “American Indians and Alaska Natives” in the United States, making up 2% of the population. To truly understand American history, we must look to the First Nations that occupied the land long before European settlers arrived. Their traditions and culture strengthen the fabric of the United States, and as time passes the country has slowly recognized and reconciled past errors. The last few years have been full of long-awaited victories, like the Washington Commanders finally changing their name in early 2022 or TikTok emerging as a platform for Native creators to share their stories.

Today, we celebrate Indigenous culture. It is all around us. To further learn from and appreciate the Indigenous people of America, visit any of these places.

1. Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native reservation in the United States, spanning 16 million acres throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. There are countless sites that have risen in popularity due to their picturesque nature, including Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon. When you visit these sites, you will have a Navajo guide as they are the only ones granted commercial access to sacred land.

The annual Navajo Nation Fair is held in Window Rock, Arizona—Navajo Nation’s capital. Taking place every September, this weeklong celebration features horticultural exhibits, art displays and markets, a parade, and a cultural showcase.

Other attractions include ancient Anasazi ruins and perfectly preserved dinosaur tracks from the Jurassic Era. The Navajo are renowned for their hospitality, operating three lodging properties in the heart of Navajo Nation—the NavajoLand Hotel in Tuba City, Quality Inn Navajo Nation Capital, and Quality Inn Lake Powell. All three are staffed almost exclusively with Navajo people and ready to accommodate you as you “explore Navajo.”

2. Miccosukee Village

The Miccosukee people were originally part of Creek Nation but migrated to Florida before it became part of the United States. Most were pushed west as a result of wars, but 100 or so refused to surrender and took shelter in the Everglades. Today, over 600 members of the Miccosukee Tribe are direct descendants of those who stayed behind, and have established a prominent presence just 25 miles west of Miami, Florida.

There are three exciting opportunities for visitors to Miccosukee Village. First, guests can learn how to touch and mount a Florida alligator. Those who are bold enough will find that a live alligator wrestling selfie is hard to top—but equally hard to take. Second, guests can take an airboat ride through the Everglades with Miccosukee fishermen, hunters and froggers as guides. A highlight of the trip is a visit to a small island, where you can see an old-fashioned Miccosukee camp.

Finally, the Miccosukee Museum features a village with “chickees,” traditional open-sided houses of the Miccosukee people, as well as patchwork sewing and cooking demonstrations. There are several annual festivals, the most highly anticipated of which is the Miccosukee Indian Arts & Crafts Festival, featuring storytelling, fire performances, and handmade arts and crafts. All proceeds go to the Miccosukee Educational Fund to provide educational programs for Miccosukee youth.

3. Grand Canyon West Rim

The Grand Canyon West Rim is home to the Hualapai Tribe. As such, National Park passes are not accepted here. There are over 1,300 tribal members living on the premises and well-known attractions like the Skywalk and zipline are part of their entrepreneurial ventures. This means any fees or money spent while there directly benefits the Hualapai people.

Your journey starts with a visit to Hualapai Point, formerly known as Hualapai Ranch. There, you’ll find a trading post with tribe ambassadors crafting artistic creations from Sunday to Tuesday. From Friday to Sunday, there are daily performances by Hualapai singers and dancers. For traditional cuisine, try the Gwe Ma’Jo Restaurant, serving breakfast and lunch—the frybread is a must. You can purchase handmade souvenirs at Native Hands, on site.

Popular lookout areas include Eagle Point and Guano Point, with panoramic views of the Canyon. Colorado River rafting is also available through Hualapai River Runners. They offer one or two day tours with certified Hualapai guides. On the tour, you’ll learn about the geology of the region, local flora and fauna, and history of the Hualapai people. Guests can stay at the Hualapai Lodge, the starting point for river rafting along Route 66, the Cabins at Grand Canyon West near Hualapai Point, or RV parking near the main terminal. RV reservations must be made by phone. All activities close by 4:30 pm.

4. Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Tribe was one of the most displaced by the Trail of Tears. Originally located in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, modern Cherokee Nation consists of 14 counties in Oklahoma. With much resilience and resolve, the Cherokee people have continued to thrive. Responsible for the first newspaper in Native territory, they have always been renowned as a progressive people, boasting a long history of trade and alliance with Great Britain and Europe long before any settlers arrived.

Popular sites include the Cherokee National History Museum, where guests can take lessons in arts and crafts and study the Cherokee Syllabary. The highly anticipated Cherokee Art Market takes place every October in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to which only the most elite artists are invited to compete for a $75,000 grand prize. Guests can observe artwork demonstrations and admire stunning displays of Native jewelry, pottery, textiles, paintings, and sculptures at this event.

Note that the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma is different from the Eastern Band of Cherokee based in the Qualla Boundary of North Carolina. If you’re visiting the latter, don’t leave without stopping at the world famous Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, located right across the street from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

5. Haudenosaunee (a.k.a. Iroquois) Confederacy

Also referred to as The League of Nations or Haudenosaunee, the Confederacy is made up of six different tribes: the Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora Tribes. They came together centuries ago, and their organizational model is believed to have influenced the U.S. constitution. Scattered throughout upstate New York, Wisconsin, Quebec, and Ontario, guests can visit attractions hosted by each respective tribe.

The Seneca Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, N.Y. features over 300,000 pieces of ancient and modern art, including wooden face masks, corn husk dolls and horn rattles. They moved to a new building in 2018 and have expanded significantly to include an outdoor amphitheater, archives, offices, and the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center. There are events year-round, including moccasin making classes, corn husk doll classes, singing and dancing classes, and more. Every November they have an annual festival that features and supports local artists and Indigenous food vendors.

In Victor, New York, the Ganondagan State Historic Site is located on the original site of a 17th century Seneca town. Today, it connects visitors to the culture and natural world of the Seneca through workshops and lectures by Indigenous speakers, interactive exhibits, and the annual Hodinohso:ni’ Art Show at the on-site Seneca Art & Culture Center.

On Labor Day weekend, the Annual Iroquois Festival takes place at the Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave, New York. The beautiful costumes that the dancers and singers wear might be the highlight of the festivities. As always, be sure to ask before taking any photos. The Iroquois Museum is open April through November generally and is well worth a visit.

6. Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

Spanning more than two million acres, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is the fifth largest in the United States. The reservation is rich with historical significance and natural beauty.

The region is known for its bald eagle spotting opportunities, with the eagle considered sacred in Native cultures. Visitors can drive along the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway, which spans 86 miles. It has markers and interpretive signs that tell the history of Indigenous tribes in the area.

Along the drive, make a stop at the Aktá Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. The Lakota are one of the main tribes of the Sioux. The museum has a collection of artifacts, a gift shop, and events like book readings and Museum Monday, free weekly presentations held in July and August to educate the public about Lakota philosophy, anthropology, and other disciplines.

In nearby Mobridge, you’ll find the Klein Museum, with 10 murals by Native artist Oscar Howe. This is also home to the Sitting Bull Monument. Chief Sitting Bull was the Sioux leader known for defeating General Custer at Little Bighorn but beloved for much more, and the monument was built to mark his final resting place.

If street art is your thing, stop by Eagle Butte. The Red Can Graffiti Jam is an annual festival organized by the Cheyenne River Youth Project that has resulted in various murals throughout the area. They blend Lakota and graffiti culture to revitalize neighborhoods and give a new platform to Indigenous artists.

7. Wind River Reservation

The Wind River Reservation in southwestern Wyoming is home to both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe Tribes.

Nature lovers can take a trip up the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway. A 40-minute drive (not including stops), the aptly named byway goes from Shoshoni to Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest mineral hot spring. There are plenty of camping options at Gannett Peak, the state’s highest point, with elevations upward of 13,000 feet.

Be sure to stop by Sacajawea’s gravesite at Sacajawea Cemetery in Fort Washakie, Wyo. Fort Washakie is also the final resting place of Chief Washakie, one of the most prominent leaders of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. The Fort hosts Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, the reservation’s largest annual event, open to the public and held in June. The event features a collective powwow, rodeo and re-enactment of the signing of the Treaty of 1868.

8. Chickasaw Country

The Chickasaw Nation has a jurisdictional territory in Oklahoma, but migrated throughout Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Okla. is a state-of-the-art venue with permanent and rotating exhibits, agritours and cooking demonstrations, a speaker series, and hands-on educational activities.

In Oklahoma City, Exhibit C Gallery serves as an art gallery and retail space. It is Chickasaw owned and features pieces by Native artists. It is also a tourist information hub and can provide information on other indigenous attractions and activities throughout Chickasaw Country. For those in Mississippi, Tupelo also has a Chickasaw Heritage Trail.

Jen Ruiz is a full-time travel writer and content creator. She is based in Puerto Rico.