For thousands of years, the only people who stepped foot on the North American continent were the various tribes we now know as Native Americans. Although it’s easy to think of Natives as all one ethnic group, the reality is that there are many distinctive cultures that make up the past and present tribes who live in North America. Native history goes far back into the ancient times, and there is more to discover about the early inhabitants of America than you can imagine.
Today’s tribes make up a large minority of United States citizens. Their land covers an impressive percentage of the American Southwest, as well as many corners of the rest of the country. If you want to experience the deep, rich culture of Native people in the United States, you’ll have no lack of interesting places to visit. Read on for a list of our nine favorite Native American cultural destinations.
1 Heard Museum, Phoenix
Arizona has the greatest percentage of Native land of any state, so it’s only right that its capital has the best Native museum around. The Heard Museum addresses the issues, culture, and heritage of primarily Arizona tribes, but it also gives a lot of attention to people groups found across the country. This is the best place to learn about the past, present, and future of Native tribes. If you’re planning to tour the many reservations in Arizona, this museum is an excellent place to preface your adventures.
2 Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
If you’re in New Mexico, don’t miss out on this experience of the state’s many Pueblo tribes. Not only can you enjoy the museum inside the cultural center, but you can stick around for traditional dances, cultural celebrations, and more. All year round, you’ll have the opportunity to taste a bit of Native celebrations!
3 Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Western North Carolina is home to the most expansive exhibit on the Cherokee tribe. The Cherokee are one of the most well-known tribes, an even those who aren’t very familiar with Native history surely know a little bit about this people group. Still, you’ll be amazed at how much you don’t know when you step into this incredible museum!
4 Mesa Verde National Park
New Mexico has an amazing amount of Native American ruins. If you want to see the best in the country, head to Mesa Verde National Park! Here, you can tour past a stunning 800-year-old Ancestral Pueblo village. The walls may be empty today, but your imagination can make the area come to life. Take a tour to learn about the history of the area. What was life like for the people who once lived here? In today’s technologically-driven world, it can be hard to picture.
5 Cherokee Heritage Center
In the middle of the Ozark’s Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee Heritage Center brings the Native culture of Oklahoma to visitors from around the nation. Here, you can explore a village from the 1700s, a museum, and a Trail of Tears exhibit. Think you may have some Cherokee in your blood? You can trace your ancestry here to find out!
6 Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Outside of the town of Taos, one of the most interesting human habitations has been in use for a thousand years. The Taos Pueblo is a conglomerate of ancient homes that are still used by the descendants of those who built them so many years ago. Even though this is a neighborhood and a reservation, you can come to visit these ancient homes and see history in progress.
7 Acoma Pueblo
The Taos Pueblo is amazing, but there is one community that’s even more incredible and ancient. The Acoma Pueblo, which is also in New Mexico, has been inhabited since 1150 AD and never went through a period of abandonment. Sky City rests on a tall mesa with a stunning view of the desert, and the people who live in the homes still retain many of their historic lifestyle elements and traditional customs. Take a tour to meet some of these people and learn about their ancient way of life!
8 Denver Art Museum
If you want to see the traditional arts of Native communities, then head to the Denver Art Museum. You can see Native art all year round, but if you want a really incredible experience, you need to visit in September. This is when the annual Friendship Powwow and American Indian Cultural Celebration takes place. The event features dancers, artists, storytellers, and more!
9 National Museum of the American Indian
Washington D.C. is home to a lot of museums, but the one that honors Native heritage best is the National Museum of the American Indian. This museum isn’t just focused on tribes found within the United States, although it has an extensive collection on these people groups. Rather, the museum is dedicated to showcasing cultures in North America, South America, and Central America.
Native Americans in the United States fight to keep their heritage alive despite the pressure to assimilate. These are just a few of the best places to experience Native American culture and gain an understanding of and appreciation for the indigenous peoples who called North America home long before the arrival of the Europeans.