Explore Native American culture at these must-visit sitesOct 30, 2023 02:07PM ● By Victor Block
Several travelers clamber aboard an amphibious vehicle for a trip through shady swamplands, eager to catch glimpses of bison, panthers and other four-legged denizens. Not far away, people watch in awe as a daring wrestler pulls an alligator out of the water and grapples it to the ground. Later on, these adventurers are immersed in local time-honored customs encompassing dances, food and rituals.
These folks are enjoying one of the most intriguing and often underappreciated tourism opportunities in the nation. They’re visiting the Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida, tucked away deep within the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S.
Diverse environments, customs and cultures await those who pay a visit to these Native American enclaves. The federal government recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities. Designated reservations house a significant portion of the approximately five million indigenous people in the country.
Spread across the nation, these sanctuaries allow visitors to delve into the rich customs and cultures of indigenous peoples and to recapture colorful chapters of America’s past. While these places are well worth a visit any time of year, they hold special significance in November, as it marks American Indian Heritage Month.
A TAPESTRY OF CULTURES
Members of Montana’s Blackfeet tribe are believed to be so named because of the color of their moccasins. Their rich history is showcased through historical sites and a museum, while the magnificent landscape is enhanced by eight large lakes and Glacier National Park.
The Navajo Nation, which sprawls across three southwestern states, is the largest Native American reserve, covering an area about the size of West Virginia. It encompasses Monument Valley, a region of sandstone buttes sacred to the Navajo people, and other magnificent handiworks of Mother Nature.
Other attractions are smaller in size but are no less interesting. The Blackwater Draw is a stream channel that runs from New Mexico to Texas. Early people visited the area to hunt for bison, wolves and other animals whose remains have been excavated in archaeological digs. Visit the museum in Portales, New Mexico, to learn about some of the earliest New World inhabitants that hunted and camped along the waterway.
Ancient petroglyphs are the attraction at the Judaculla Rock in North Carolina. Sacred to the Cherokee, this boulder is decorated by some 1,550 carvings that have been dated back to 200 to 1400 AD. The etchings include stick-like figures, ring designs and claw-like imprints. Sculpted impressions indicate where extractions were made to fashion bowls and pipes.
By far the most momentous Native American site is Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Its 600 cliff dwellings and other structures comprise the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.
Beginning around 7500 BC, Mesa Verde, which translates to “Garden Table Mountain” in Spanish, was a seasonal habitat for Puebloan Indians who sustained themselves by hunting, gathering and subsistence farming. Around the end of the 12th century AD, they began to construct the first cliff dwellings, but abandoned the region shortly thereafter.
A popular time to engage in Native American culture is during powwows throughout the year. These gatherings provide opportunities for Indigenous people to socialize and honor their culture through song, dance, crafts and storytelling.
Local guides and tour operators provide a convenient and interactive way for travelers to experience Native American culture.
Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours introduces tourists to the Yurok, California’s largest tribe, by cruising in dugout canoes through remote spots along the Klamath River. The waterway’s abundant fish population has been a major food source for the tribe for centuries.
The Kootenai in Idaho, Washington, Montana and Canada are known as “the water people” because they hunted on lakes and rivers. A descendant of Native American royalty, Keya Birdsbill introduces travelers to the tribe’s history and lifestyle through her company, Water People Tours.
If you’re planning to visit a Native American reservation, check first to learn if it welcomes guests, and what rules or restrictions are in place. Remember that you are a guest in the tribal nation’s homeland, so enter it with respect and a quest for learning.
See a list of Native American tribes at usa.gov/tribes
American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association promotes visits to American Indian destinations.
aianta.com | 505-724-3592
Seminole Indian Reservation
FloridaSeminoleTourism.com | 866-471-2963
Blackfeet Country Visitor
VisitMT.com | 406-338-7406
Water People Tours
WaterPeopleTours.com | 406-214-0302
Window Rock, Arizona
DiscoverNavajo.com | 928-810-8501
Blackwater Draw National Historic Landmark & Museum
Portales, New Mexico
BWDArchaeology.com | 575-562-2202
Cullowhee, North Carolina
JudacullaRock.com | 828-293-3053
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde, Colorado (near Cortez)
nps.gov/meve | 970-529-4465
Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours
YurokCountry.com | 707-482-1555