9 Sites to ‘Honor the Past and Embrace the Future’ During Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to "honor the past and embrace the future" of an incredible group of people who have a delicate and complicated history with the United States. An opportunity for the U.S. to reflect on and reckon with its history, this month shines light on the different cultures, histories, and people — from ancient tribes to modern societies — across the land.
In 2009, President Obama designated the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, a day for Americans to learn about and celebrate the rich culture and history of Native Americans. This year, burn off those Thanksgiving turkeys and pies by hitting the road on Nov. 29th and visit a notable Native American site or two. From museums to interactive experiences, you’ll find plenty to enjoy this Native American Heritage Day or throughout the entire month.
Mesa Verde National Park
With 5,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most significant Native American sites in the United States. Home to the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there between 600 to 1300 CE, the park is best recognizable by a rock-cut city built into the cliffs of Colorado. With 40+ miles of roads and numerous hiking trails, it’s the perfect place to learn about one of the United States’ most ancient civilizations on Native American Heritage Day and their ancestors, today's modern Pueblo people.
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
Owned by the Tamaya people of the Santa Ana Pueblo, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Albuquerque is comprised of 550 acres of pools, walking trails, stables, restaurants, and a golf course. However, it’s their in-depth Native-focused resort activities that make it an ideal place to stay during Native American Heritage Day. Members of the Santa Ana Pueblo offer insight into their culture by leading daily on-site activities such as archery, jewelry-making, adobe brick making, and tours in the Tamaya Cultural Learning Center. Traditional dance and flute performances and Tamaya storytelling under the stars are some of the most treasured Native American cultural experiences guests can enjoy.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
In the 1800s, thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homes in the eastern United States and made to walk to Oklahoma, or Indian territory, on what would be called the Trail of Tears. For Native American Heritage Day, visit the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail which consists of 25 sites in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Many parts of the historic trail are now highways or intersected by public property. However, travelers have managed to craft driving routes to all 25 sites, can walk on parts of the historic trail, and even explore sections of the trail conducted by water. Visit the National Park Service website to find the best path for you.
National Museum of the American Indian
As a component of the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is by far the most significant Native American museum in the United States. Their expansive collection includes artifacts, media, objects, and photographs from nations and tribes that lived and flourished in the Western Hemisphere. The museum is spread across three facilities, a museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C., the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City, and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. If you’re in the Washington D.C. area this year, the NMAI is hosting a Native American Heritage Day event for families to enjoy.
Navajo Cultural Tour
Learn about the Navajo people by taking a self-driving, three-day tour mapped by the Navajo Tourism Board. The tour begins in Tuba City, Arizona, at the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum and the Navajo Code Talkers Museum. The second day features visits to the Tuba City Trading Post, a drive to Kayenta, Arizona, to visit the Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise, followed by a stop at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. If you have time, the tour sends travelers on a hike in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. On Day 3, the Navajo Cultural Tour wraps up the trip with a visit to the Navajo Nations Council Chambers National Historic Landmark and the Window Rock Monument & Veterans Memorial Park.
Totem Bight State Historical Park
Don’t forget the Alaskan Native people this Native American Heritage Day and take a trip to the Totem Bight State Historical Park in southeast Alaska. In 1938, the U.S. Forest Service salvaged and refurbished a significant number of decaying totem poles left by Native groups in the area. Skilled carvers among local Native people were hired to repair or duplicate the totem poles in traditional ways. Today, Totem Bight State Historical Park is home to 15 colorful totem poles that depict Haida and Tlingit myths and symbols, as well as a clan or community house representative of the types used in local Indian villages in the 1800s.
Five Civilized Tribes Museum
Located in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum highlights five tribes — the Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokee, and Seminoles — all of whom were forced to move to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. The museum exhibits historical artifacts and art representative of each of the Five Civilized Tribes. Travelers will find it located in the historic Union Indian Agency building, which was the first building to house the Superintendence of the Five Civilized Tribes in 1875 and later used as a school and orphanage for the Creek Freedmen.
Miccosukee Village & Airboats
The Miccosukee Tribe were originally of the Creek Nation, but are best known for hiding out in the Florida Everglades when part of their tribe was forcibly moved to the west. By adapting to the Everglades and living in hammock style camps, the Miccosukee evaded capture and assimilation for 100 years until a highway was built into the Everglades in the early 1900s. Today, the Miccosukee Tribe instructs visitors about their history through their Miccosukee Village Museum, daily alligator demonstrations that depict their relationship with the gigantic amphibian, and through airboat adventures to a traditional hammock camp in the Everglades swamp.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Between 850 and 1250, an ancestral Pueblo culture dominated New Mexico in an area called Chaco Canyon. This remarkable destination is notable for its multi-story “great houses,” used as public and ceremonial buildings, and an urban ceremonial center unlike anything found elsewhere in the United States. Visitors will be overwhelmed by the sheer size of Chaco Culture National Park as they take self-guided driving tours through the nine-mile Canyon Loop, stopping occasionally to visit archeological locations with various sights like petroglyphs along hiking trails and great houses with 150 rooms. Pueblo Bonito is by far the most excavated and impressive site at Chaco Canyon, making it a must-stop during a visit.