November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to recognize and appreciate the important contributions made by Indigenous peoples to the establishment and prosperity of the United States. The designation of Native American Heritage Month was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and since then the month has been dedicated to celebrating the culture and heritage of Indigenous peoples that enriches and defines the character of the nation. Although it is valuable for all individuals to reflect on the role of Indigenous peoples throughout American history to present day, it is especially meaningful for environmentally and socially conscious travelers to understand the spirit of tourist destinations across the United States located on Native land.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona and Utah
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which spans 91,696 acres across Utah and Arizona, is one of the most magnificent and most photographed places in the world. The 17-mile loop within the Park allows travelers to view famous monuments including Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte with Navajo tour operators, and one mile before the visitor center travelers can buy arts, crafts, native food, and souvenirs from Navajo vendors. During the summer season, the visitor center also includes Haskenneini Restaurant specializing in native Navajo and American cuisine. Located in Navajo Nation, home to one of the largest American Indian tribes, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is known by the tribe as “Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii” and is renowned for red hues, sandstone masterpieces, and mesmerizing light.
Mesa Verde National Park, Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to honor and preserve the archeological sites constructed by the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited Mesa Verde for over 700 years. The park’s landscape of canyons and vistas is the site of over 1,000 living species and is defined by the ingrained cultural heritage of 26 Native tribes. Mesa Verde National Park is best known for the cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Peublans which are today some of the best-preserved ruins in the North American continent. Visitors to the Park can hike, attend an educational program at the Morefield Campground Amphitheater, listen to the stories of Mesa Verde on the National Park Service app, or stargaze, as Mesa Verde was certified as the world’s 100th International Dark Sky Park in 2021 in recognition of efforts to preserve naturally dark skies and share the cultural significance of stargazing to the Ancestral Pueblo people.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
Effigy Mounds National Monument preserves over 200 mounds considered sacred by the Monuments 20 culturally-associated Native American tribes. The mounds are located in one of the most scenic sections of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, and the site is also a protected area for the variety of wildlife, flora, and fauna respected due to the symbiotic link between Indigenous culture and the natural environment. The Effigy Moundbuilders constructed mounds on the site most commonly in the shape of birds, a bear, deer, bison, and a turtle, and clues in Native American legends suggesting to researchers that mounds were built by ancestors as ceremonial and sacred sites. The Monument offers a number of activities including museum exhibits displaying ancient Indigenous artifacts, moonlight hikes, bird walks, guided tours, and even a winter film festival.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, South Dakota
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site was inhabited by groups of the Hidatsa tribe prior to the arrival of fur traders in 1750. The site offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of the Northern Plains Native Americans by stepping into a reconstructed earthlodge, viewing recovered artifacts in the museum, walking the Village Trail, and seeing the remains of the Awatixa Xi’e and Awatixa sites. Hiking the North Forest Trail loop will bring travelers to the Missouri overlook to appreciate views of the Missouri River, and do not forget a pair of binoculars and a birding checklist from the visitor center to spot waterfowl, warblers, and more. Site trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.
Located in the ahupua’a, an ancient Hawaiian land division, Pu’u Loa is the archeological site of over 23,000 petroglyph symbols and images sacred to the Native peoples of Hawai’i. In order to protect the petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa, park administration built a boardwalk elevated above the ground surface which allows visitors to view the site without damaging the historical markings.The etchings document the life and culture of Native Hawaiian people, and travelers can take a 1.4 mile round-trip day hike through a 500 year old lava field to view the petroglyphs. Pu’u Loa is the largest concentration of rock art in the Hawaiian island chain, and it is illegal to touch or deface the site due to its cultural significance.
Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is the site of the largest archeological dig in history, from which scientists discovered 2.5 million artifacts representative of the many Native American civilizations that have inhabited the land. The park includes a museum which showcases over 2,000 artifacts, and six miles of trails allow visitors the opportunity to explore the Hitchiti Village Site, Great Temple Mound, and the Earth Lodge. The Earth Lodge, a reconstructed council chamber of Mississippian culture, is especially notable for its floor which is in original form as built by the Native people and dates to the year 1015. Ocmulgee is the ancestral home of the Muscogee Nation and Native Americans gather at the site every September for a celebration of culture.
Beyond Native American Heritage Month
Although November is designated as Native American Heritage Month, it is important to acknowledge the contributions and presence of Indigenous peoples in the United States year-round. Indigenous communities not only model a care for the earth which inspires greater understanding of the natural environment as more than merely a resource commodity, but Indigenous tribes were the original inhabitants of land across the United States that today is vast, preserved, and home to plant and animal species that continue to thrive in the environment. Travelers can visit Indigenous tourism sites specifically, or take the time to research the history and culture of local Indigenous peoples when exploring anywhere in the United States.
An SMS bot developed by the non-profit organization Code for Anchorage, with information provided by the non-profit organization Native Land, allows U.S residents to text a zip code or city and state to the number (907) 312-5085 to discover the name of the Native lands that correspond with a location.
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Want to learn more?
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – Navajo Nation Parks
Welcome to Mesa Verde – National Park Service
Mesa Verde Park History – Visit Mesa Verde
Effigy Mounds Sacred Space – National Park Service
Explore the lives of the Northern Plains Indians on the Upper Missouri – National Park Service
Pu’uloa Petroglyphs – National Park Service
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park: An Attraction of Prehistoric Proportions – National Parks
11 Important Native American Heritage Sites in the U.S That You Need to Visit – Matador Network