Exploring Indigenous Heritage in the Rocky Mountain West
Adventurer & Photographer
Below we have created a guide to exploring Indigenous heritage in the Rocky Mountain West. It’s important to learn before you travel, participate respectfully and ask permission, support local Indigenous communities, and continue to educate yourself when traveling through Indigenous communities and landscapes. Remember 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. For a more thorough prelude to traveling through Indigenous lands, check out our introduction.
Yellowstone National Park
Long before road-trippers came to see Old Faithful and the majestic bison of Yellowstone National Park, many different Indigenous people connected with this area of North America. The human history of the region goes back more than 11,000 years! There are 27 current tribes that have historic connections to the landscape within Yellowstone National Park. They are; Assiniboine and Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyenne River Sioux, Coeur d’Alene, Comanche, Colville Reservation, Crow, Crow Creek Sioux, Eastern Shoshone, Flandreau Santee Sioux, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine, Kiowa, Little Shell Chippewa, Lower Brule Sioux, Nez Perce, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, Salish and Kootenai, Shoshone–Bannock, Sisseton Wahpeton, Spirit Lake, Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, Umatilla, and Yankton Sioux.
Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho at the Indian Village at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
There are many events held every summer that showcase the rich culture and heritage of the Native Americans in this area. We recommend you attend a Powwow. Two of our favorites are the Eastern Shoshone Indian Days in Wind River Country and the Indian Village at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Staying a bit longer in Wind River Country? There are plenty of activities for the whole family.
Grand Teton National Park
With its iconic peaks, it’s not hard to understand why this region has been captivating the hearts and minds of humans for thousands of years. The Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Crow, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Nez Perce and other tribes used this valley as a rich harvesting and hunting ground. The Grand Tetons also hold spiritual meaning for these People.
To explore Indigenous heritage around Grand Teton National Park, you can visit one of the many Powwows happening in the nearby Wind River Country with the Northern Arapaho or Eastern Shoshone. For something even closer to the park, consider visiting Jackson, Wyoming, in time for the annual Teton Powwow: Celebration of American Indian Cultures, happening in late May. This celebration is put on by Central Wyoming College and Native American Jump Start and is an amazing event where Indigenous knowledge keepers from the Wind River Reservation, the Fort Hall Reservation, the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Rosebud Reservation, the Crow Reservation and the Blackfeet Reservation share their rich culture, traditions, dance and history.
Glacier National Park
The lush meadows and valleys, cascading waterfalls from glaciated streams and turquoise blue alpine lakes of Glacier National Park have long been the home for Blackfeet, Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes. The park is nestled in between the Blackfeet Reservation and the Flathead Reservation. Because of this, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the Indigenous heritage and culture of this area.
For a tour in the park, check out Sun Tours. They offer daily Blackfeet interpretive tours on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and throughout Blackfeet Country. Who better to give a tour of the park than the People that have inhabited it for more than 10,000 years? Want to learn and experience even more? Head to Browning and visit the Blackfeet Culture Camp where you can spend the day on horseback being guided through the scenic foothills and plains surrounding Glacier National Park by Blackfeet cowboys. Montana truly is an incredible place to start exploring Indigenous heritage in the Rocky Mountain West — there are so many activities to participate in and events to attend!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was historically lived in and traveled through by Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Comanche tribes. If you are basing your Rocky Mountain road trip in Denver, we recommend that you stop by the Tesoro Cultural Center for the Annual Indian Market and Ceremonial Dance that happens in June every summer. This event brings over 40 Indigenous nations together to educate and share Native American culture with the public through celebrations, demonstrations, art and dance.