Upon signing the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009, which designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, President Obama said, “I encourage every American to join me in observing Native American Heritage Day...It is also important for all of us to understand the rich culture, tradition, and history of Native Americans and their status today, and to appreciate the contributions that First Americans have made and will continue to make to our Nation.”
In honor of this Native American Heritage Day on Nov. 27, as well as Native American Heritage Month, Travel + Leisure created these maps, representing the tribes and cultures that inhabited the lands where the nation’s most populous cities now stand.
Indigenous people are not a monolith — we have so many different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. For me, Native American Heritage Month is a time to reflect not only on my own heritage, but to honor and learn about other Native cultures. Indigenous histories are often overlooked or simplified, and years of genocide, forced relocation, and disease have displaced Native people from the lands they inhabited. Although these maps don't account for every tribe or culture in the United States (or the current boundaries of tribal nations), they serve as a starting point for further education. (There are nearly 600 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and more state-recognized tribes.) These maps, based on the helpful resource created by Native Land, remind me of the tapestry of tribes that inhabited these lands for hundreds of years and the diverse cultures that are still here today.
It reminds me of my tribe’s own story and our connection to our ancestral lands. I’m a member of the Nansemond Indian Nation, a tribe based in what’s now southern Virginia along the Nansemond River. Nansemond means “fishing point,” the name itself illustrating our connection to the natural resources of the region. My tribe was just federally recognized in 2018 after 30 years of effort, and we continue to work to preserve the Nansemond history and culture today.
This Native American Heritage Day, I encourage you to reflect on our country’s history and Native American cultures. These maps are not exhaustive or exact, but they serve as a jumping-off point from which you can acknowledge and learn more about the Native history of your city, state, or country. For more exact information about your location, visit the Native Land site to begin your research.
Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Nansemond Indian Nation. Follow her adventures on Instagram @elizabetheverywhere.