To put it mildly, the grand ole United States of America is bursting at the seams with Native American history, culture, and folklore. What now makes up the 50 states were lands once home to rich, vibrant communities that trapped and hunted, traded, and made handcrafts. Similarly, these communities were often steeped in agricultural artistry in addition to quaint traditions.
While things have changed since then, there are still locations across the nation that serve as home to the new generation of these still-going tribes, who welcome visitors to partake of their preserved lands and traditions. And, it just so happens that there are also plenty of affordable places to stay while you are taking in the sites. In celebration of Indigenous People’s Day on October 14th, here are a few places to pay your respects and take in the local Native American Culture.
- Cherokee Tribe in the Great Smoky Mountains
Although the Cherokee is a branch of the Iroquois Nation that traces their history and heritage back over a thousand years, the official Cherokee Nation was established in the early 1800s. The town of Cherokee, North Carolina, is home to 11,000 members of the Eastern Tribe who live on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The reservation is a 56,000-acre boundary that covers five parts of western North Carolina counties, and is open to visitors, offering a museum, amusement park, casino, and shopping.
The Cherokee Nation also educates its visitors about the daily lifestyle lived by its forebears in the 1800s through demonstrations, presentations, and educational tours. During the summer months, the tribal story is told at the outdoor Mountainside Theatre, through the play “Unto These Hills.”
- Pueblo Indians in Taos, New Mexico
Located in the high desert of New Mexico and bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos has the honor of being one of the country’s oldest artist colonies. Taos enjoys other designations, including World Heritage status by UNESCO and National Historic Landmark designation. Taos is known for its Taos Pueblo, a multi-story Adobe complex that has served as home to Pueblo members for several centuries.
Other sights include Taos Plaza, a former center for trade and town square gossip, which now houses galleries, restaurants, and shopping. Artists can take in the local art at museums, including the Howard Museum of Art and the Taos Art Museum. Taos also provides visitors with walking tours that cover landmarks, including the San Geronimo Church and Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument.
- Havasupai Tribe in Grand Canyon National Park
For the lover of nature and all its magic, a visit to the Havasupai Indian Reservation, located in the Grand Canyon, is one hot ticket. The name Havasupai translates to “people of blue-green waters,” which is no coincidence given the five waterfalls within the campground: Havasu Falls, Navajo Falls, Beaver Falls, Mooney Falls, and Fifty Foot Falls.
The roughly 639 Havasupai members who live on the reservation can proudly trace their heritage back over 800 years, and welcome visitors to camp and hike on their land, but there is one catch: because of its wild popularity and the requirement that visitors book ahead, this VIP site can have a bit of a waiting list.
- Navajo Nation Near the Four Corners
They say you can’t be in two places at once, but the USA gives visitors the chance to be in four at once — four states that is. The Four Corners are located where four southwestern states meet up: Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The 27,000 square miles that make up three of the four corners (Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico) are part of the Navajo Nation, which at 16 million acres, plays home as the largest reservation to the largest Native American tribe in the nation.
Navajo gives its visitors an extensive itinerary, which includes hiking, camping, and fishing in its breathtaking backdrop. The reservation has several parks, cultural tours, and museums like the Code Talkers Museum, which is a tribute to the World War II code talkers who helped the US soldiers receive their orders and plans by sending messages back and forth in Navajo, outpacing the Morse Code system that was also used but took longer to translate during that time.
- Ojibwe Tribe in Sleeping Bear
While not situated on a Native American reservation, Sleeping Bear is still a magical part of the rich local Native American folklore in Northern Michigan. Local Ojibwe legend has it that the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the nearby North and South Manitou Islands are the eternal resting places for a mother bear and her two cubs who were separated while swimming across the great Lake Michigan to flee a forest fire in Wisconsin.
Located on the northern shores of Lake Michigan’s “little finger,” the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park offers miles of sand-covered beach, a dune climb with bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan, forests, and crystal clear inland lakes.