Amazing Experiences that Celebrate Native American History and Culture
The U.S. celebrates Indigenous People's Day on the second Monday of October. In Canada, June 21st marks a similar holiday.
But, really, any time of the year is ideal for celebrating the history and cultures of the people who lived in the Americas before Europeans colonized the continent. These groups have persisted through persecution, war and even genocide, keeping traditions alive even in difficult circumstances.
If you're traveling around Canada or the U.S., don't miss your chance to partake in one of these amazing experiences that highlight Native American and First Nations cultures.
Attend the Gathering of Nations
North America's largest pow-wow happens on the fourth weekend in April in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Gathering of Nations sees people from over 550 indigenous groups come together to sing, dance and celebrate.
Anyone is welcome at the gathering, where you'll be able to try delicious Indigenous recipes, buy handmade goods and see incredible performances.
Celebrate the Manito Ahbee Festival
If you can't make it to New Mexico, try going further north to Winnipeg's Manito Ahbee Festival. This sacred space becomes a gathering place for people primarily from the Cree, Dakota Sioux and Ojibwa groups.
You'll see traditional dances and dresses with beautiful and elaborate beads and feathers, cheer for your favorite in the tipi raising competition and watch in awe as graceful riders complete the Indian horse relay. But participants also enjoy the modern sides of these cultures, with events like native hip hop concerts and basketball games.
Tour Four Reservations in the Dakotas
Originally from the Great Lakes region, the Dakotas were driven out of their land by the British Empire and, later, the American and Canadian governments. Dakota groups now mostly reside further west, with many reservations located in North and South Dakota.
Trafalgar's nine-day National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas takes travelers to four reservations, where they'll get to learn from members of different indigenous groups like the Oglala Sioux, the Sucangu Lakota Oyate Nation and the Dakota Nation. The tour includes activities like lunches with ingredients grown on the reservation, seeing the Earth Lodges of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, hearing tribal stories and collecting their own tea mix made with local plants.
While you'll also get to visit some of the country's most beautiful national parks, the coolest thing about this tour is that your activities will directly support independent local projects.
Complete the Great Spirit Circle Trail
Set in the middle of the magnificent Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island is a short ferry ride away from Canada's idyllic Bruce Peninsula. Visitors come for the island's natural wonders, which include crystal-clear blue water, waterfalls and forests.
But not every visitor is aware that the island is also home to seven First Nations reserves. To learn about all of them, do the Great Spirit Circle Trail in the company of a local Indigenous guide. You'll go through each reservation, learning first-hand about their cultures and ceremonies.
Go to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage
While Anchorage brings in visitors with its nature, you shouldn't skip a stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. An ode to the 11 major indigenous groups of Alaska, the center seeks to celebrate these cultures while safeguarding their history, languages and traditions.
Plan to spend at least an entire afternoon here and go for a guided tour so you can truly soak up the experience. Though the price of admission is somewhat steep (hovering around $30 for adults), it's a contribution not only to keeping the center open, but also to its various social programs that include youth education, research, aid for elderly indigenous people experiencing hardship, community healthcare and more.
Dine at Indian Pueblo Kitchen
You can't know a culture if you don't know it's food, so if you're in Albuquerque, make sure to go to Indian Pueblo Kitchen. New Mexico's Pueblo group is made up of 19 tribes, who now serve pre-Columbian cuisine in this unique restaurant.
Sure, you can also get post-contact food like Tex-Mex dishes and burgers. But you can get those anywhere. Instead, dig into bison, elk shoulder, yam puree and wild greens. Many of the ingredients come from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's garden, as well as from local tribes.
This is a meal you won't soon forget.
Visit Parks Connected to the Navajo
Tour the west for 10 days, seeing some of the country's most astonishing natural wonders. Insight Vacations’ Wonders of the American West trip takes you to Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon national parks, but also to the underrated Mesa Verde National Park, once home to the Pueblo people. In this park, you'll get to see ancient Pueblo dwellings.
Perhaps even more impressive will be a stop at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. A local Navajo guide will take you on an ATV through Mystery Valley and the Anasazi Ruins. This ancient tribe disappeared mysteriously, but the Navajo still guard the archaeological memories that they left behind. Visitors are only allowed to visit the ruins with a Navajo guide, making this a unique experience most tourists don't get to have.
On several days, you'll also get to try traditional or fusion Navajo food.
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in Canada
About an hour and a half east of Alberta, Canada, you'll find Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. The site is often ignored for other wonders of the province, like Banff National Park, but it's most definitely worth a stop.
For centuries, this has been a gathering place for the Siksika First Nation and now also doubles as a place for people to learn about the tribe's traditions. Go on tours around the park with a Siksika guide, see dance performances, visit the cultural museum and buy handmade crafts. For an even more fun, immersive experience, spend the night at the park in a Blackfoot tipi.
Traditional Storytelling in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the most awe-inspiring places you'll ever visit in the entire world. But make the adventure even more fantastic with Costsaver's Best of the West tour. You'll explore the American West for 12 days, but the highlight of the trip will be seeing the national park through the eyes of people who've guarded the land for generations.
You'll have a chance to converse with members of different groups while at the Desert Viewpoint Intertribal Cultural Heritage Center, which is located within the park. You'll also stop at a Puebloan-style watchtower from which you can see the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.
Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Centre in Cape Breton Island, Canada
Another great tour to take if you want to learn about indigenous cultures in North America is Insight Vacations' Landscapes of the Canadian Maritimes trip. You'll follow the Atlantic coast to the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
The tour takes visitors to the Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Centre on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The center shares the legends and traditions of the Abegweit Mi’kmaw First Nation. You'll explore it on a guided tour led, of course, by a member of the group.