9 Ways to Experience Native American Culture

Four states and more than 20 U.S. cities (and counting) have recast Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day to honor the millions of people already living in the Americas when Christopher Columbus arrived. On that holiday or any day, you can experience Native American culture and appreciate its staying power.

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Photo By: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Photo By: Donovan Quintero via The Navajo Times

Photo By: JacobH

Photo By: Matailong Du via NMAI

Photo By: Jacob Tyler Dunn

Photo By: courtesy of AIFF

Photo By: Robert Collins

Photo By: Roberto Rosales

Photo By: Fletcher Oakes

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the IPCC highlights the culture of the state’s 19 pueblos. Every weekend, groups like the Cachini Dancers of Zuni Pueblo (pictured) perform in the center’s plaza. There’s a museum, an annual film festival featuring Native American cinema, a cafe that serves authentic pueblo food like fry bread and bison stew, and a world-class research library that’s open to the public.

Navajo Nation Fair

This annual celebration of everything Navajo is held at Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation. The week-long event includes a parade, traditional dancing and singing, a science fair and the Miss Navajo Nation pageant, where one of the talent competitions is sheep butchering. Really. There’s also a midway with the usual rides you expect at a fair. Pictured: Navajo beauty queens walk in the fair’s parade. 

Taos Pueblo

The Taos Indians had been living in this five-story adobe residential complex in Northern New Mexico for 500 years when conquistadors showed up in the 16th century. About 150 of the Taos still live here, making the village one of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the Americas. The pueblo is open to the public seven days a week but closes for 10 weeks in late winter and early spring for tribal rituals.

National Museum of the American Indian

NMAI has locations in New York and Washington D.C. that feature rotating and permanent exhibits of everything from Pre-Columbian jewelry to contemporary art created by Native artists. The D.C. branch is opening a new exhibit just after Indigneous Peoples Day 2017 that shows how Indian words and images are everywhere in American culture. The exhibit titled "Americans" includes 350 objects ranging from a Tomahawk missile to this to-die-for Indian motorcycle.

Fry Bread House

This Phoenix eatery serves, you guessed it, fry bread, a chewy dough bread that’s deep fried, folded, and stuffed with meat, cheese and beans. A staple on reservations, fry bread originated in the 19th century when the only food many starving and dispossessed tribes had was flour, sugar and lard handed out by the U.S. government. The Natives turned the rations into high-calorie fry bread that kept them alive and became a lasting symbol of perseverance.

American Indian Film Festival

Dip into the world of Native American cinema at the AIFF, the oldest and best known festival in the country dedicated to movies that tell the stories of America’s original people. There are screenings, panel discussions and an awards ceremony. Past guests have included director Chris Eyre, actors Adam Beach, and Chaske Spencer (pictured) who appeared in "The Twilight Saga" series. The festival runs for nine days in November in San Francisco. Tickets at AIFF’s website.

A Tribe Called Red

This trio of indigenous DJs out of Ottawa won the Canadian version of a Grammy with their blend of electronic dance music, powwow singing and hip hop. Their live shows feature traditional and hip hop dancers, and their songs address topics relevant to American Indians. They’ve played Coachella, Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Check tour dates for shows.

Petroglyph National Monument

One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America is on a cliff overlooking the suburbs of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, Native peoples scratched thousands of mysterious shapes and drawings of animals and humans into the stones between 400 and 2,000 years ago. When the Spanish traveled through in the 16th century, they added their initials to the Indians’ sacred stones. It’s a visual record of the collision of cultures. Modern tribes descended from the ancient artists still regard the area as holy, so tread lightly.

Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow

Nearly two dozen U.S. cities and one state observe Indigenous Peoples Day now, but the first city in the country to turn Columbus Day into a celebration of Native Americans was Berkeley, California. This capital of counterculture rolled out the festival in 1992, the 500th anniversary of European arrival in the Americas. The annual event features traditional dancing, vendors selling Native crafts and food, and a blessing of the grounds. 

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