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Native American Experiences: 7 Destinations for Art, Culture, & History

native american destinations
Dave Odegard
Written by Dave Odegard

This Monday was Native American Day. Well, actually it’s one of a few Native American Days. It seems that a specific day set to honor the culture and history of Native Americans is different depending on where you are, and only three US states celebrate it on a single designated date. This year, California’s was on September 23 (which was this past Friday), South Dakota’s is on October 10 (which other states celebrate as Columbus Day), and this week (September 26, specifically) saw Tennessee’s observance.

So in recognition of a culture and history that clearly doesn’t get enough public appreciation, here are seven places and events across the United States where you can go to explore, learn, and immerse yourself in the awe and beauty, both current and past, of the Native American people.

The National Museum of the American Indian

This museum was established by an act of Congress in 1989 as a “living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions.” The National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian, features two locations: It’s main branch on the National Mall in Washington DC and the George Gustav Heye Center in lower Manhattan. The museum’s collection is one of the largest of native American arts and artifacts in the world (with over 800,000 items from over 1,000 cultures and spanning more than 12,000 years), while its calendar is filled with cultural events every month and its cafeteria is world famous for serving a unique menu of Native American dishes. Admission to both locations is free.

The Gathering of Nations

Held every fourth weekend of April, Albuquerque, New Mexico becomes home to what is considered the largest pow-wow in North America with over 500 tribes represented in a celebration of Native American dance, music, and culture. The three-day Gathering of Nations, which also welcomes non-Native guests, features the Miss Indian World pageant; competitions in various categories for dance, singing, and drumming; an “Indian Traders Market”; and a concert of contemporary Native American music. The next Gathering of Nations is slated for April 27 – 29, 2017. Tickets will go on sale this fall, ranging from $18 for one-day admission to $85 for a two-day pass with a VIP Box floor seat.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

If there’s one city that’s perfect for anyone interested in Native American art, it’s Sante Fe. Not only is the area home to nearly countless vendors, galleries, and shops selling authentic Native art and jewelry, but there’s also the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts ($5-$10 admission), the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture ($7-$12 admission), and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian ($8 admission). And then there’s the world-famous Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ annual Santa Fe Indian Market, which has been going on for over 90 years, and which takes place next on August 19 – 20, 2017.

The Crow Fair

Created over 100 years ago as a gathering for members of the Crow tribe, the Crow Fair in Montana has since become open to all Native Americans tribes. The fair, which takes place on the Crow reservation about 60 miles outside of Billings, is often billed as the “the teepee capital of the world,” due to the massive amount of traditional tents that are set up by participants, and is also known as the largest Northern Native American gathering. The fair features a variety of different pow-wows and dance displays, as well as a rodeo, a daily parade each morning, and more. The event attracts an estimated 40,000-50,000 people every year and welcomes “spectators and guests from all walks of life.” The next Crow Fair is scheduled for August 16 – 21, 2017. There’s no listed admission or ticket price.

The American Indian Film Festival

Hot off the press. The Official program for the 39th Annual American Indian Film Festival has arrived!

A photo posted by American Indian Film Institue (@aifisf) on

Started in 1975, the American Indian Film Festival is one of the premier events of contemporary Native American media and the oldest one dedicated to Native American cinema. In 1977, it moved from Seattle to its permanent home in San Francisco, where it eventually became the American Indian Film Institute in 1979. The films that will show at this year’s festival will be announced on October 7 (ticket and package prices will assumably also be announced) and the festival is scheduled to run November 4 – 12.

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Oklahoma is a state rich in Native American culture. After California, it’s the state with the second-largest Native American population, including many members of the Cherokee, which is one of the largest groups of Native Americans. Two of the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes, included the Cherokee Nation (the largest), are headquartered in the city of Tahlequah. Visitors will find the city’s street signs in both English and Cherokee in the Tahlequah Original Historic Townsite District, as well learn about the Cherokee people and history at Cherokee Heritage Center (admission is between $5 and $8.50).

The Suquamish Museum

Despite the celebrated art and iconography of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, their history and culture haven’t received as much mainstream attention as those in the East. Thankfully, there’s the Suquamish Museum. Based across the Pugent Sound from Seattle on the Port Madison Indian Reservation, the museum preserves and houses artifacts and exhibits documenting the history of the Suquamish tribe. Admission is $3-$5.

It’s no doubt that we didn’t even come close to listing every possible place and event where you can experience Native American culture. If you have a suggestion that’s not on the list, feel free to leave in the comments sections below!


About the author

Dave Odegard

Dave Odegard

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.

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