Exploring Indigenous Heritage Across America: An Introduction
Adventurer & Photographer
Travel can be an incredible way to deepen your understanding of beautiful landscapes and the people that live there. Travelers can become better stewards when given the chance to experience a cultural exchange and understand the social, economic, and environmental impacts they have. We have put together some great resources and tips for exploring Indigenous heritage across America.
Learn Before You Travel
When doing your initial trip prep, you can find out who were the First People of the area you will be visiting. A great tool to help you get started is the database Native Land Digital, a constantly changing website that shows the overlapping territories of Indigenous peoples. It’s also important to recognize that tribal nationals are distinct sovereign governments, and they should not all be lumped together under one Native American umbrella. Every tribe is unique, has a different story, different traditions, different languages and laws.
Ship Rock is called Tsé Bitʼaʼí in Navajo, and is a sacred mountain for the Navajo people.
The pueblos found in Wupatki National Monument are still incredibly important to modern Pueblo people. Various Hopi clans are traced back to these sites.
Participate Respectfully and Ask Permission
When hiking in a public area or a park, make sure to stay on trails, pick up trash, and leave the wildlife alone. When visiting tribal lands (like a reservation) or an area that is sacred to Indigenous peoples, be aware that you are in people’s homes. Their community will have their own customs and regulations (which will differ from reservation and tribe to tribe).
When engaging with Indigenous tourism, ask lots of questions! They are not expecting travelers to know everything about their culture and heritage, but will love the opportunity to answer questions and share their traditions and stories with you.
Asking permission before taking photos of events or people is important, and if you aren’t sure if you should enter an area that is poorly marked, ask first or play it safe and don’t enter. Make sure to always listen to your guides and pay attention to posted signs. Please don’t pick up or take objects found in these areas.
Support Local Indigenous Communities
One of the best ways to support Indigenous communities is to make sure you spend your money at Indigenous-owned businesses. Not only can you find restaurants, shops, and hotels owned by Indigenous people, there are also many Indigenous tour companies that will be able to give you an insightful look into the history and significance of the landscapes that you are visiting. Explore local cultural centers and museums run by Indigenous people as another way to learn about local traditions while supporting their communities. When shopping for gifts and souvenirs, make sure to purchase directly from local artists and craftspeople. Spend money where it will make the biggest difference – with Indigenous hosts and in Indigenous communities.
Handmade Navajo jewelry and crafts.
Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe traditional hoop dance at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Continue to Educate Yourself
Even after your travels have ended, you can continue to educate yourself on the Indigenous history of your own hometown. Some great ways to do this include visiting your local cultural center if you have one, and seeking out Indigenous-owned businesses, restaurants and events. There are so many different ways to support these communities and the best ways start with education. You can give back by raising awareness about issues impacting Indigenous people, tune into Indigenous-led organizations and activists, and if you have the means, donate to organizations that aid tribal communities.