8 places to learn about Native American culture in Arizona


Long before Arizona became a US state, various indigenous groups made their home here, living in villages throughout the region. The ancestral Puebloans, Hohokam, Patayan and Mogollon peoples left their heritage on the land, and their descendants still live in the same regions, keeping their culture and customs alive.

Today Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized sovereign Indigenous nations, all of which add their rich traditions to the state’s cultural diversity. No matter where they go, visitors to Arizona have the opportunity to gain a first-hand understanding of the region’s Native American culture at hands-on museums, cultural centers, and on the tribal lands of these nations.

1. The Heard Museum in Phoenix

The best place in the state to gain an overview and in-depth knowledge of all of Arizona’s indigenous peoples and cultures is the Heard Museum in Phoenix. One of the oldest museums in the city, it showcases the cultures of the state’s Native Americans, while adding historical and geographic perspectives.

The best way to gain an in-depth understanding of the native tribes of Arizona is through RESIDENCE exhibition on the first floor. A map of the state offers a clear view of the areas in which each of the tribes live, while the exhibit takes visitors through all of these lands, showcasing artifacts representing the concept of home for each indigenous nation, from ancient times. nowadays.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions showcasing the work of Indigenous artists and Indigenous cultural events. If possible, try to catch some of these events for a better understanding of native cultures. Besides the traditional dances, over the years I have seen members of the tribe perform or tell ancient legends and other stories accompanied by music.

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2. The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff

Another state museum that hosts Indigenous cultural events is the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Over the years, I have seen many traditional Hopi, Navajo and Zuni dances, shows and demonstrations there. I tried traditional foods from different nations including Hopi Piki bread and Navajo fried bread, watched native artists make jewelry, baskets, and other traditional crafts. While presenting their work, Indigenous artists talk about the process and the meaning of the object. We learned a lot about several Katsina dolls in this setting from the artists who sculpted them, their original purpose, and the stories around them.

In addition to hosting these events, the museum itself has an extensive collection of tribal artifacts, displayed in the Indigenous Peoples of the Colorado Plateau exposure. This exhibit reflects the stories, values ​​and cultures of 10 tribes living in Arizona, with material from the Zuni, Acoma, Southern Ute, Southern Paiute, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai, Dilzhe’e Apache and Diné (Navajo ). . The exhibits include traditional basketry, pottery, weaving, clothing, fine silver jewelry, toys and tools.

3. The Tribal Lands of the Native People of Arizona

While the above museums provide a great introduction to Arizona’s native cultures, touring tribal lands gives travelers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of these nations. Most tribes have museums or cultural and heritage centers where visitors can learn about their history, traditions and way of life.

4. Museums of the Navajo Nation

The largest indigenous tribe in the state – and the country – the Navajo Nation includes much of northern Arizona and includes some of the most distinctive landmarks in the Southwestern United States, such as Monument valley, Antelope Canyon, and Canyon de Chélly. Visit one of the Tribal parks provides opportunities to learn more about the Diné (Navajo) people. But several museums about the Navajo Nation offer a deeper understanding of their history and culture.

Window Rock, named after a distinctive rock formation, is the nation’s capital and home of the Navajo Nation Museum and Visitor Center. Focusing on the unique culture of the Diné nation, the center features several traditional museum collections and exhibits, as well as a research library and programs that help preserve the Diné language. An interpretive video, photographs, a variety of works of art, jewelry and textiles describe the history, legends and life of the Diné.

Created with the help of eminent Navajo scholars and the national artistic community, the Explore the interactive Navajo Museum in Tuba City presents the journey of the Diné people in life. Housed in a dome-shaped structure meant to recall the traditional hogan, the museum is divided into four parts, corresponding to the four directions. Visitors enter from the east side and walk clockwise to the south, west and north, presenting the land, language, history, culture, traditions, family system and the ceremonial life of the Diné. Admission includes admission to the nearby small Navajo Code Talkers Memorial Museum, located in the Tuba City Trading Post.

However, you don’t need to drive to Window Rock or Tuba City to experience Navajo culture. The Navajo Village Heritage Center in Page offers another opportunity to engage in this unique culture through authentic Navajo cuisine, dance performances and storytelling while learning about the history and traditions of the Diné.

5. The Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa on the Hopi Nation

The Hopi people are known as the oldest indigenous peoples of North America who lived continuously on the same land, in the same villages. In fact, the village of Oraibi, dating back to 1100, is the oldest inhabited settlement in the United States. While you can drive on the main road through all of the Hopi villages including Old Oraibi, you can only visit them or get off the main road with a guide. As old as the structures are, people still live there and they appreciate their privacy.

The Hopi live in 12 villages across three mesas in northern Arizona, and the best way to learn about their culture and history is to start a tour of their land at Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa. Here a small museum offers an introduction to their history and culture, where you can also learn about the villages and book a tour to visit them. An on-site restaurant offers traditional Hopi dishes, while the gift shop offers art and crafts from several local Hopi artists, including Katsina dolls and pottery. To make the most of your visit, you can spend the night at the hotel on site.

Exhibition of traditional Native American buildings in the Hualapai Nation.
Hayk_Shalunts / Shutterstock.com

6. Grand Canyon West on Hualapai Nation Land

Famous for its Skywalk, a glass bridge over the Grand Canyon and a popular tourist destination, Grand Canyon West also offers a glimpse into the life of the Hualapai Nation. In addition to the exhibitions at the reception center, Eagle Point offers an immersive look at the life of the Hualapai and other indigenous peoples of the region. Stroll through the traditional houses of different tribes in the area on a cobbled path and watch traditional songs or dances in the open-air amphitheater. Depending on your timing, this can be a simple drum / song by a tribal member, or spectacular Hualapai dances performed by a group. A small gift shop offers traditional handmade items from the Hualapai, Hopi and Mojave tribes.

7. The White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum

If you are driving through eastern Arizona, stop at Fort Apache Historical Park to learn more about the Apache people of White Mountain. Within the park, the Cultural Center and Museum provides the perfect place to learn about Apache history and culture. Called Nohwike ‘ Bagowa (House of Our Footprints), the building reflects a traditional Apache holy house, gowa. Inside a traditional gowa, the exhibition Ndee Bike ‘ (Footprints of the Apache) presents a multimedia presentation of the creation story of Apache. Traditional artifacts, works of art, historical and contemporary photographs, and interactive computer and audio stations provide a glimpse into the history and life of the Apache people. In addition to these exhibitions, the Cultural Center hosts traditional demonstrations and special events. You’ll also find Apache baskets, beadwork and other arts and crafts, books, and music in the museum’s gift shop.

Besides the cultural center, you can visit Fort Apache and learn about its history and impact on the Apache people, as well as the ruins of Kinishba, once occupied by the ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni tribes.

Hopi House is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, in Grand Canyon National Park, in the US state of Arizona.
Hopi House at Grand Canyon National Park (Photo credit: OLOS / Shutterstock.com)

8. National parks and monuments in Arizona

In addition to cultural centers and museums on and off tribal lands specifically dedicated to the indigenous nations of Arizona, visitors to the state have the opportunity to experience their rich culture in all corners of the state.

Most of Arizona’s national parks and landmarks have exhibits about contemporary native tribes and regularly host native events, such as traditional dances, music, and storytelling.

Grand canyon national park has cultural and historical ties to 11 modern tribes, reflected in the architecture and artwork of the Desert View Watchtower and Hopi House, and several exhibits at the Visitor Center.

In addition to presenting ancient structures, Wupatki National Monument, Walnut Canyon, Montezuma / Tuzigoot Castle, and Ruins of Casa Grande, also reflect the histories and cultures of modern Arizona tribes.

Professional advice

No matter where you go in Arizona, you have the opportunity to interact with the native tribes and learn about their cultures. To get the most out of these learning experiences and interactions, especially on tribal lands, respect their rules and customs. Some tribes limit taking photos and videos, so always ask in advance. If you have the chance to attend dances and ceremonies open to the public, know that it has certain expectations. Try to find out about them in advance or follow the example of the tribal participants.

Note: Before visiting the sites, especially those located in the Homeland, please check the websites for opening hours and latest closings.

While in Grand Canyon State, explore some of these other unique sites:

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