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Delve Into Diverse Cultures on a Native American Reservation *ONLINE ONLY*
November 2023
By Victor Block

Several adventurous travelers clamber aboard an amphibious vehicle for a trip through shady swamplands seeking sightings of bison, panthers and other four-legged denizens. Not far away, people watch in awe as a daring wrestler pulls an alligator out of the water and grapples it to the ground. Later these sightseers are introduced to ages-old traditions of the local residents including dances, foods and rituals.

These folks are enjoying one of the most intriguing, and often overlooked, tourism opportunities in the country. They’re visiting the Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida, hidden deep in the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.

Very different settings, customs and color await those who stop by other Native American enclaves. The federal government recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities. Designated reservations serve as home to many of the estimated five million indigenous people in the country.

Those sanctuaries, which are spread throughout the states, allow visitors to delve into their diverse customs and cultures, and to recapture colorful chapters of America’s past. While these places are well worth a visit at any time of year, they become significant during November, which is designed as American Indian Heritage Month.

Reservations are a good, but not the only, place to start an immersion into the story. Many share similarities at the same time that they demonstrate each community’s unique attributes.

Members of the Blackfeet tribe who inhabit its reservation in Montana are believed to be so named because of the color of their moccasins. Historical sites and a museum relate their story, and eight large lakes and Glacier National Park, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border, add to the magnificent landscape.

The Navajo Nation, which sprawls across three southwestern states, is the largest Native American reserve, covering an area about the size of West Virginia. It encompasses Monument Valley, a region of sandstone buttes which is sacred to the Navajo people, and other magnificent handiworks of Mother Nature.

Other attractions are smaller in size but not interest. The Blackwater Draw is a stream channel that runs from New Mexico to Texas. Early people visited the area to hunt for bison, wolves and other animals whose remains have been excavated in archaeological digs. Generations of some of the earliest New World inhabitants hunted and camped along the waterway.

Ancient petroglyphs are the attraction at the Judaculla Rock in North Carolina. That boulder is decorated by some 1,550 carvings that have been dated back to 200 to 1400 AD. The etchings include stick-like figures, ring designs and claw-like imprints. Sculpted impressions indicate where extractions were made to fashion bowls and pipes. By far the most momentous site is the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Its 600 cliff dwellings and other structures comprise the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.

Beginning around 7500 BC, Mesa Verde (Spanish for Garden Table Mountain) was a seasonal habitat for Pueblonian Indians who lived by hunting, gathering and subsistence farming. Around the end of the 12 century AD, they began to construct the first cliff dwellings. Soon after, they left the area. A popular time to engage in Native American culture is during periodic powwows that take place throughout the year. That word is derived from the Narragansett People’s term for “spiritual leader.”

These gatherings provide opportunities for Indigenous people to socialize, dance, sing, story tell and honor their cultures. A recent listing of these events taking place in Wisconsin includes art and craft displays, birchbark canoe building, basket weaving and pottery making.

Tour operators provide a convenient way to experience Native American culture, with the added benefit of knowledgeable guides. Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours introduces participants to the Yurok tribe, the largest in California. They travel in dugout canoes through remote spots along the Klamath River, the second longest in the state whose abundant fish population has been a major source of food for the tribe for centuries.

The Kootenai in Idaho, Washington, Montana and Canada are known as the Water People because of their skills related to lakes and rivers. A descendant of Native American royalty who leads Water People Tours introduces her charges to the tribe’s history and lifestyle.

If you’re planning to visit a Native American reservation, check first to learn if it welcomes guests and what, if any, rules or restrictions are in place. Remember that you are a guest in the tribal nation’s homeland, so enter it with a feeling of respect and a quest for learning.

WHEN YOU GO visityurokcountry.com


The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association represents the Native sector and promotes visits to American Indian destinations. aianta.com

A list of Native American tribes is available at usa.gov/tribes.


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