January 24, 2010

What is a good way for a tourist to experience native american culture?


Hi, I am an Australian woman of aboriginal decent who would dearly love to visit your country to learn more of this beautiful culture, Could you recommend any native American tours or places to visit where i can absorb some of your culture?
~Submitted by Rain C.

Hi Rain, I’d suggest attending an authentic native american pow wow. There is a pow wow somewhere almost every weekend of the year, although the summer is the peak pow wow season. …More about pow wows

Plains Indian Cultures


Western pow wows are usually (but not always) outdoors, with free camping on the grounds for the duration of the pow wow. Camping is usually primitive – they have cold running water from a few spigots and portable out houses for toilets (hint:bring your own toilet paper, they are always out) but no shower facilities and rarely flush toilets.

Crow Fair & Rodeo, Crow Agency, Montana


My favorite is the Crow Fair, All-Indian Rodeo and Pow Wow. There is no charge to attend. It’s always held the third weekend in August at Crow Agency, Montana (Billings, Montana would be the closest big airport, about 120 miles away). They have over 1,000 tipis in the encampment on the pow wow grounds and are known as the Tipi Capital of the World. They claim to be the largest outdoor pow wow in the Americas. It is certainly the largest I have attended, and I’ve been to 100s of pow wows.

There is also an all indian rodeo and horse races going on at the same time and daily camp parades in addition to native american ceremonies and dancing.

It is free to camp on the pow wow grounds during the pow wow, but facilities are primitive. Expect it to be hot and dusty, usually in the 90s. But staying on the pow wow grounds is the best way to really experience the event. Come early to get a good camp spot.

Campers start coming in on Wednesday, although the pow wow doesn’t officially start until Friday, when most tourists arrive. They have various ceremonies like give aways and naming ceremonies, etc, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning. They dance on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon and evening. There are so many native dancers that they usually have to have two grand entries to get them all into the dance arena.

They also have stick games in the evening (an indian gambling game that usually seems somewhat perplexing to tourists, yet fun to watch). There will be many food booths and craft vendors set up around the dance arena.

If you want to stay in a motel during the powwow within a 100 miles, you probably should book your room six months to a year in advance. The closest motels are in Hardin, Montana, about 20 miles away (limited rooms) or Billings, Montana, about a two hour drive away.

Nine miles down the road, just outside of Crow Agency, is the actual site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn (Custer’s Last Stand) and nearby is the Little Big Horn Memorial Center and Cemetary.

It’s about a day’s drive from this area to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Park has the largest wild buffalo herd in the US, about 3,000 of them. You might also see wolves, bears, elk, moose and deer in the park. Yellowstone is also known for it’s famous geyser, Old Faithful, and many other geothermal wonders. I think there is a $20.00 fee to enter the park in a car. There is one lodge in the park (reserve a year in advance) and many RV Parks and campgrounds (reserve several months in advance).

Frontier Days at Browning, Montana


Another pow wow you might enjoy that is near other tourist attractions is called Frontier Days at Browning, Montana. It is always the 2nd weekend in July. That one is just a pow wow with dancing on Friday afternoon and evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. It’s free to attend. You can also camp for free on the pow wow grounds, also primitive. You can take a shower at the High School during the pow wow for a few dollars.

There is one motel in Browning with a handful of rooms, but I don’t recommend it. There is one RV Park next door to the pow wow grounds with showers. There are several nice hotels in Glacier National Park and many RV Parks and campgrounds with showers along the way and in East Glacier, which is about 30 miles away. Make reservations as early as possible with hotels and motels, and check into campgrounds and RV Parks before 5:00pm or earlier, as this is their peak tourist season and they fill up fast. If you want to stay in the big fancy lodges, reserve six months to a year in advance.

There is a small Plains Indian Museum a block from the powwow grounds in Browning and a wild Buffalo reserve about 50 miles away.

Browning is at the turnoff into the eastern side of Glacier National Park, known for it’s spectacular scenery and wildlife. There are tours in the Park you can take if you don’t want to drive the narrow roads to the top yourself. There are many hiking trails that go into areas you can’t get to by car, that are well worth taking if you have the time, and there are many hidden lakes and some spectacular waterfalls in the park. All of the scenery within the borders of the park is breathtakingly beautiful.

Be prepared for any weather at Browning. It’s usually in the 80s or 90s, but I have been there some years when it snowed in July. It’s always very windy there in the afternoons, and dusty, and it usually rains at least one day of the pow wow. It gets chilly at night.


Arlee 4th of July Pow Wow, Arlee, Montana


The Arlee, Montana Pow Wow is the oldest, continuous pow wow in the United States. It is always held the weekend before 4th of July and runs thru July 4th.

Red Earth American Indian Cultural Festival, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


The Red Earth American Indian Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is one of the largest pow wows in the midwest. It is an inter-tribal powwow and one of the few pow wows where you will see dancers dancing in both the Northern style and Southern style at the same pow wow.

This pow wow is in a major city and is held indoors at the Cox Convention Center the third weekend in June. There is also a major native american parade through town before the pow wow.

More than 1200 American Indian artists and dancers from over 100 tribes throughout North America gather to celebrate the richness and diversity of their heritages. Red Earth dancers represent the elite of Native American dancers, some of the most gifted and accomplished in the world, each in their own distinctive tribal dress.

Southwest Indian cultures


The Southwest is mostly Pueblo, Navajo, Zuni and Hopi cultures. Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, New Mexico are three popular tourist destinations. There are pueblos and reservations all around those towns.



Gathering of Nations, Albuqueruqe, New Mexico


Albuquerque is home of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow held the fourth weekend in April. This is an indoor pow wow held at the university. They claim to be the largest indoor pow wow in America. It is unique because it is an inter-tribal pow wow attended by over 3,000 members of 500 different indian tribes and First Nations from all over the United States and Canada.


Acoma Pueblo


Acoma Pueblo is the oldest continuously occupied village in the US and one of the best pueblos for tourists to visit. People have been living atop this 367-foot-high sandstone mesa since the early ninth century. Also known as the Sky City, Acoma Pueblo is famous for its white pottery.

Located 60 miles (96km) west of Albuqueruqe off Highway I-40, Acoma Pueblo has guided tours available daily except June 24 and 29, July 10-13, July 25, the first and/or second weekend of October and the first Saturday of December. An admission fee is charged, except on September 2 (Feast of San Esteban).

Guided tours take about an hour and a half, but allow at least two hours, including driving time from the highway.

If you want to visit Acoma Pueblo, you must go with a guide. Stop at the Sky City Visitor Center at the base of the mesa to arrange for your tour and get a camera permit. You will also find a snack bar here. Only still photographs are allowed at Acoma Pueblo (no video recorders), and most artists will not let you photograph their pottery. Pets are also not allowed, and no kennel facilities are available.

On the tour, a knowledgeable guide will explain Acoma Pueblo history,talk about the difficulties of living on the mesa-top, and relate the brutality of Onate’s attack. Local artists offer pottery for sale along the way.

You’ll find little shade atop the mesa, and the New Mexico sun will burn you quickly. Wear lots of sunscreen and a hat, and take some bottled water along.

On public Feast Days, guided tours are suspended,but you are welcome to watch the dances and enjoy the activities. Photography is not allowed. Be respectful, stay clear of the dancers and remember that you are watching a religious ceremony, not a performance. Do not applaud. Note the location of each festival. Not all are held on the mesa at Sky City.

Acoma public dances


February: First or second weekend, Governor’s Feast at Old Acoma

May: First Sunday, Santa Maria Feast Day in McCarty’s

August 10: San Lorenzo’s Feast Day in Acomita

September 2: San Esteban Feast Day and Harvest Dance, Sky City

December 24-28: Luminaria Tour, Christmas Festival, San Esteban Del Rey Mission, Sky City


Zuni Pueblo


If you are in the Gallup area, you can reach Zuni Pueblo from I-40 by taking Route 602 South from Gallup, then turning west on Rt. 53. From Albuquerque, you can also take the scenic route from I-40 and Route 53 near Grants, passing the El Malpais National Monument (an interesting volcanic flow) and by El Morrow National Monument.

El Morro is an imposing sandstone cliff where Spanish and American travelers rested and carved their signatures, dates and messages for hundreds of years. El Morro National Monument protects over 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs, as well as Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

The beauty of Zuni is that it is a culturally intact Native American reservation. People live in Zuni as they have for generations. It is important to go to Zuni with reverence and respect for the culture and history as well as for the beauty of the land.

The Zuni Pueblo puts out a very nice publication, Experience Zuni, which is available online or by calling 505-782-7238. It is well-worth reading before your visit. The Zuni Pueblo website explains a little bit about Zuni, what you will see, and gives tips on how to be a respectful visitor.

When you get to Zuni, be sure and stop by the Visitor’s Center before starting your visit to Zuni Pueblo to get an orientation and current information. They can give you photography permits, if needed, and share with you key places to visit. The following tips may help you understand the difference between visiting Zuni and visiting “tourist attractions.”

  • Zuni is a community of people with spiritual and cultural traditions that may be different from your own. It is a living community of private homes and cottage industry rather than a “living history museum.”
  • In general, photography is forbidden. Ask if and where you can take photos. It is always a good rule to leave your camera at home during religious ceremonies.
  • Religious and cultural ceremonies include processions and dances. They are not shows. It is expected that visitors will remain at a distance and be quiet and respectful.
  • Walk and hike only in designated areas. The Visitors Center can tell you where those are.

I highly recommend a guided tour to get you started on your visit to Zuni. Inquire at the Visitors Center about the tours. There are three types of tours offered:

  • Old Mission and/or the historic pueblo/Middle Village – There is a $10.00 charge to enter the church but it is very well worth it. The murals are both moving and impressive. As usual, there is no photography allowed inside the church. Enjoy the murals with your eyes and your heart.


  • Artist Workshop tour – Visit 2 artists – cost $75 for up to four people (with at least a week’s notice)


  • Hawikku or Village or Great Kivas archeological sites – by appointment. cost $75 for up to four people (with at least a week’s notice)

If you can, find the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. This museum is primarily for the people of Zuni, especially the children, but if you can find the museum, located in a historic adobe, you will not only learn from the exhibits, you will be enlightened. The museum is free, but a donation is suggested.



Santa Fe


Santa Fe is home to the famous Indian Market & Art Show, held the third weekend in August. It features the work of 1,200 native artists and is the largest show and sale of Native American artwork in the world. <

Santa Fe has more than 250 art galleries, an endless array of fine dining and lodging establishments, and is a good jumping off point for seeing this area of the Southwest. The Official Santa Fe Visitors Guide is free for the asking either at, or through the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-777-2489.

Canyon Road in Santa Fe is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

In a town with 16 museums, including the Georgia O’Keefe Museum with over 1,000 works of the master artist , the cream of the crop is on Museum Hill. Museum Hill is a collection of 4 of Santa Fe’s most interesting museums: The Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. With a wonderful plaza, expansive views, footpaths connecting each museum, and a convenient cafe, Museum Hill is a day trip right in town.

Located about 45 minutes from Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument is the centuries-old site of a large pre-Pueblo community that was established in the area’s extensive volcanic cliffs. One of the state’s most important cultural and archaeological sites, Bandelier is a beautiful spot that offers a view across time into the lives of Native Americans who called it home from 1100 to 1500 AD.<BR.
There are destinations on this planet that have a certain Oz-like quality about them, where you’re suddenly struck with the sensation of entering another world. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is just such a place. Fortunately, you don’t have to venture somewhere over the rainbow to get to this enchanting New Mexican landscape. Tent Rocks is located just 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe.


19 Pueblo Tribes of New Mexico


The nineteen Pueblo tribes that form the majority of New Mexico’s Native American population are scattered around the state, but a number of the communities are in close proximity to Santa Fe and offer a view into both the ancient and modern worlds of the Puelbo Indians.

The Pueblo tribes have public dances nearly once a month year round, although the big ones are in July and at Christmas time. The timing of their dances usually correspond with the holidays of catholic saints, due to the early mission influences, and are called Feast Days.

Pueblo communities are very particular and have a lot of rules for visitors. Do not enter buildings unless they are marked as shops, or open to the public, and do not photograph the people without asking their permission first. The most important rule is you aren’t allowed to take pictures without a $5.00 to 60.00 permit, or not at all, or only of certain things, depending on the pueblo, and you can’t use your pictures for commercial purposes without prior arrangements and approval.

The dances are religous ceremonies, not performances, so don’t clap and don’t take pictures unless they announce it is ok to do so. A warning: don’t break their rules or you will find yourself either fined or quickly invited to leave.

Gas stations are far apart on some pueblos, so gas up your car whenever you see one, and dining and lodging facilities are also limited in some areas. Most pueblo shops don’t take credit cards, so if you plan to shop, bring cash or traveler’s checks.


Taos Pueblo


You can drive up to Taos in a couple hours from Santa Fe. On the way, you will cross one of the highest bridges in America. Taos is a small tourist town in the Santo ‘d Cristo mountains just up the road from the Taos Pueblo, known for it’s artisan community.

The whole town of Taos is quaint shops and restuarants and things to see and do. The Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos has more than a dozen galleries with some 5,000 pieces of Native American and Hispanic art. There are also several other museums in Taos, including the three room adobe house Kit Carson purchased for his bride in 1843, and the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, former home of the famous writer. The town and it’s establishments are not part of the Pueblo.

The Taos Pueblo, located just outside the town of Taos, is more than 1,000 years old and still inhabited by a small number of people, mostly older folk. Many of the younger people prefer to live in modern houses in the town.

At Taos Pueblo, you can take a guided walking tour or a self-guided tour there most of the year and talk to artisans in their shops and people on the street, but private homes are just that, private unless you are invited in. There is a $10.00 per person entry fee plus a $5.00 per camera fee to enter.

Taos Pueblo is closed every March and April for the whole month, and occasional other days, so check their website for the exact dates they are open to the public.

Taos Pueblo is the only Native American Community designated as both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. Take the self-guided tour outlined on the map you receive at the registration booth, or join one of the scheduled tours led by a native tour guide, where you will learn about the people who still live here and the history of their tribe. If you really want to step back in time, get up early Sunday morning and go to mass on the pueblo, gas lit, pump organ and all.  You don’t need to be catholic, all are welcome.

Taos public dances:


January: Turtle Dance, Deer or Buffalo Dance

May: Santa Cruz Dance
June: San Antonio Feast Corn Dance, San Juan Day Corn Dance

July: Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow, Santiago Day Corn Dance, Santa Ana Day Corn Dance

September: San Geronimo Eve Vespers, San Geronimo Day, Pole Climbing

December: Procession of the Virgin, Deer or Matachines Dance


Grand Canyon West


Most tourists are familiar with the Grand Canyon’s spectacular North and South rims, but the West Rim is less well known. Grand Canyon West is owned by the Hualapai Tribe. Consisting of approximately 2,000 Hualapai members, the tribe owns nearly one million acres of land throughout the Grand Canyon’s western rim.

The capitol of the Hualapai Reservation is Peach Springs, Ariz. Peach Springs is not far from Kingman, Arizona and is on historic Route 66.

This tour is not so much cultural as it is just a spectacular tourist experience. The Grand Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world. In 2007, the Hualapai Tribe built a skywalk with a glass bottom that extends over the canyon wall out into virtual space. You can walk out on this sky walk, giving a view of the canyon bottom beneath your feet — 4,000 feet below!

Grand Canyon West is accessible from Peach Springs via the freeway and the infamous Diamond Bar Road. Fourteen miles of Diamond Bar Road are graded and maintained (sort of) but not paved. RV’s will not be able to use that road. We recommend using the Park and Ride Coach Service for visitors driving RV’s and other low lying vehicles.

If you do that, you will park at the Grand Canyon West Welcome Center on Pierce Ferry Road which is one mile past Diamond Bar Road. Please call to reserve your round trip seat on the Park and Ride service. There is a nominal fee for either driving and parking your own vehicle or parking and taking the bus. Reservations: (702) 260-6506

If you are flying to the Southwest, select either the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), or the Las Vegas Airport(LVS). Once you reach the airstrip terminal, you can purchase a package to tour Grand Canyon West.

Your basic tour once at Grand Canyon West is the “Hualapai Legacy Tour” – this is the basic per person admittance to Grand Canyon West and costs $29.95 per person. With this ticket you will have access to all Points of interest. To go out on the Skywalk, however, it will cost an additional $29.95 (2008 pricing).

You won’t be able to take personal effects out on the Skywalk because if visitors dropped things, the sensitive plexiglass would soon be scratched. Visitors are asked to store all personal effects in lockers. There is a professional photographer on the walkway and those photos are available for purchase in the visitors center.

Before you start your journey to Grand Canyon West, whether it be from Las Vegas or the Phoenix area, decide what you want to do and see, think about how long you can spend and review literature on package trips and flights. Since driving to this remote area is not easy right now, many have signed up for helicopter trips, small plane tours or other packages. Some opt to stay at Grand Canyon West. These trips must be planned for and some are rather pricey.

Here are some options (there are many others):

Westwind Aviation – Westwind flies out of Deer Valley-Phoenix Airport. They have a fleet of single engine turbo-prop Caravans, very sturdy and reliable planes. We flew courtesy of Westwind to the Grand Canyon West Skywalk Grand Opening.

They offer a package charter to Grand Canyon West.

The Adventure Tour is priced between $480 and $525 per person. On this 7 hour tour, you can fly over scenic Arizona and the canyon, picnic at Guano Point, and tour the Skywalk and the Indian Village. Your pilot also serves as your guide once you arrive at Grand Canyon West.

Their Perspectives Option includes a 10 minute helicopter flight down to the floor of the Canyon, a brief walk to the river’s edge, a 15 minute smooth water pontoon boat ride on the Colorado River, with towering cliffs above you, then 10 minute ride back to the top and reconnect with the pilot for the 1 1/2 hour ground tour above, before the return flight to Phoenix.

Air time to Grand Canyon West from Deer Valley Airport is only 1 hour. The Airport is conveniently located off I-17 just north of the I-101 interchange.

Papillon Tours – Papillon operates Grand Canyon West tours out of Las Vegas. Papillon is the only helicopter company certified to fly both the South and West Rim of the Grand Canyon with three exclusive landing sites at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! They offer airplane, helicopter and bus tours. I have not toured with them but know that they are a large company with a history of serving tourists out of Las Vegas.

Packages Offered At Grand Canyon West


Let’s say you drive to Grand Canyon West on your own, arrive at the airstrip terminal which serves as the entry to the area, and want to tour and see the Skywalk. While you don’t need to reserve a walk on the Skywalk ahead of time, you should call and reserve your tour package ahead of your visit. You have some options.

The most important thing to remember is that you must purchase either an outside or on-site tour package to see the Skywalk. There is no entry to the Skywalk without purchasing an entry package or tour.

Grand Canyon West On-site Package Tours Official Website

You Can Stay Overnight at Grand Canyon West.

Hualapai Ranch – Hualapai Ranch offers a wild west experience with cowboys, western shows, opportunities to go horseback riding and old fashioned western meals. You can stay overnight at the ranch.

Hualapai Lodge – The lodge is located in Peach Springs, capital of the Hualapai Tribe. Hualapai Lodge has rooms ranging in price up to $120. It has a lobby with large fireplace, clean and basic rooms. The Diamond Creek Café offers American foods, including hamburgers and sandwiches along with specialties such as Hualapai tacos. They have a pool and gym, laundry facilities. Address: 900 Rte. 66, Peach Springs, AZ, USA. Phone: 928/769-2230 or 888/255-9550

It’s Worth the Price — After visiting Grand Canyon West and the Hualapai people, peering over the canyon’s edge and experiencing the thrill of flying in to the airstrip over beautiful Arizona canyonlands, I have to say the prices, which appear high on first glance, are worth it when you consider the importance of tourism to the Hualapai people.

The Skywalk and the tourist facilities at Grand Canyon West represent the dreams of the Tribe for a financially secure future. All the Tribe has are these beautiful lands. In order to make money, this impoverished Tribe must find a way to use the land. They have chosen to open their lands and hospitality to the world and thus ensure a future for themselves and their children. In my book, a visit to the unusual Grand Canyon West is a good addition to a Southwest vacation.



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