By Jeff Ficker
Updated: January 20, 2017
Luc Novovitch / Alamy

For more than 2,000 years, Native Americans have made their home in Southern Arizona. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area’s original inhabitants, the Hohokam, first arrived around 100 AD and cultivated the land with a well-engineered system of canals. Since then, dozens of native tribes have flourished in the Sonoran Desert, including today’s Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, whose land forms the eastern boarder of south Scottsdale. The long-underappreciated cultures of these native people had been reduced to a series of clichés in the 20th century, reinforced by Western films and Route 66 tourist traps. Today, though, native communities are showcasing their rich history and art, and organizations like the Heard Museum serve as vibrant cultural centers. In January through early April, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation presents Native Trails, a free event that features pow wow and hoop dancing, as well native artists and vendors, on Thursdays and Saturdays at Scottsdale Civic Center Park. These festivals and the recommendations below offer diverse survey of native culture.
 

Heard Museum

The Southwest’s premier center for indigenous people, the Heard exhibits a vast collection of Native American art and cultural artifacts, including paintings, sculpture, textiles and beadwork, pottery, baskets and jewelry. The museum also hosts a variety of festivals and events year-round, and its gift shop sells traditional and contemporary works directly from Native American artists.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

See where Phoenix got its start. The Hohokam first settled at Pueblo Grande around 450 AD, and over the next thousand years, the village grew to as many 2,500 residents. Today, the archaeological site and museum chronicles the Hohokam people, their ingenious irrigation system and architecture, and artifacts, like their unique red-on-buff pottery. 

Kai

Get a literal taste of Native American culture at Kai, which means “seed” in the Pima language. The restaurant at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort south of Phoenix incorporates indigenous plants grown on the Gila River Indian Community’s land. The innovative Southwestern menu has earned Kai the distinction of being Arizona’s only five-star, five-diamond restaurant. 

River Trading Post

White oak floors, a pressed-tin ceiling and lots of natural light help this modern shop selling Native American artwork and artifacts avoid the tourist-trap feel of similar stores in Scottsdale. You’ll find pottery and baskets, Navajo textiles and Hopi Kachina, as well as an extensive jewelry collection with new and vintage pieces, set with natural materials like turquoise and coral.

Deer Valley Rock Art Center

This 47-acre park in Northwest Phoenix preserves some 1,500 petroglyphs, ranging from abstract symbols and shapes to animal and human figures. For more than a thousand years, indigenous people have left these markings on the site’s black basalt boulders. The beautifully designed center provides an informative overview and offers visitors (much-recommended) binoculars for a $1 rental. 

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