Culture, Music, Sport and Festivals

Embrace the Culture: indigenous experiences in the USA and Canada

Shaun Edmond

5th March 2024

Native American Totems and Clan Houses located at Totem Bight State Historic Site

Essential to the cultural fabric of both the USA and Canada, North America’s native cultures give you a window into the continent’s past, and provide an enriching experience for visitors of all backgrounds. To visit a reservation or indigenous-run lodge is to get truly acquainted with the nature of the US and Canada, and to experience millennia-old cultures that are steadily being reborn into the contemporary conscience.

The cultural and ethnic diversity of North America’s indigenous peoples is astounding – some groups led hunter-gatherer lives, others practised agriculture, some established towns with permanent structures and a few established civilisations of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While there are museums, reservations, historical sites and community-run lodges dotted across the continent, here are five of the best places to get acquainted with them.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Its red rock spires rising out of the ground like natural skyscrapers, Monument Valley is more commonly associated with cowboys thanks to Spaghetti Westerns. Nonetheless, as it lies within the Navajo Nation, a visit here is also a chance to experience how the people of this arid land lived. Tours run by native guides will take you to viewpoints and down trails that are off-limits to vehicles, including on horseback, teach you about their culture and give your tongue a taste of their traditional cuisine and your ears a serenading with local musicians. On your way, be sure to stop at one of the roadside crafts stands, if for no other reason than to admire the craftsmanship and pottery that is integral to the Navajo Nation’s identity. Another good place to appreciate Navajo art is the valley’s only non-camping accommodation, the View Hotel, whose design has it blend in to the surrounding desert cliffs.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelley
Pronounced “de Shay”, Canyon de Chelly makes for a fascinating detour from Route 66. Located at the bottom is the beguiling White House ruins complex, carved into the walls for shade from the sun. Hike the steep descent yourself (provided you’ve the energy and equipment) or hire a guide to explore the rest of the Canyon floor. Navajo vendors selling flatbread and jewelry are present both at the car park and near the ruins. On your way there, keep your eyes out for a hogan, a traditional roundhouse that acted as a dwelling for the Navajo people.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde NP
Situated just outside the Navajo Nation in Colorado, Mesa Verde’s most prominent attraction is its ancient dwellings. Inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans, they constructed over 600 houses and citadels beneath the overhanging cliffs, the largest of which could accommodate up to 150 people. Mysteriously abandoned around the year 1300, they were rediscovered 500 years later by a pair of cowboys sheltering from a snowstorm. While the dwellings are impressive enough from atop the canyon ridge, ranger-led tours through their rooms make it worth descending the walls via the ancient trails.

Gallup

Native Americans in Gallup
A small town lying along Route 66, Gallup’s moniker as the ‘Gateway to Native American Culture’ is well-earned, being situated between the Zuni Pueblo, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation. Once a headquarter for the southern transcontinental rail route, this present-day western town has is a unique destination: it is now a major trading post for more than 70% of the world’s Native American jewelry and art and is considered to be one of the USA’s last surviving trading posts.

Learn about the incredible artisanship that goes into making Native American art or immerse yourself in cultural events at the Gallup Cultural Centre. There are plenty of murals, museums and galleries in Gallup showcasing the region’s native history and art, and the Red Rock Park Museum has hundreds of artifacts on display as well.

Community-run lodges in British Columbia

Community lodge demonstration
With its tranquil fjords and spectacular wildlife, learning about the Pacific Canadian wilderness from its original inhabitants feels like the most natural way of doing so. While Vancouver bustled, British Columbia’s northern coastline remained remote, and this helped to preserve the cultures of the people who have lived here for millennia. To this day lodges run by the area’s various tribes continue to offer authentic wilderness experiences for those interested in digging deeper. Many of the guides and staff grew up in this area and are also adept in preparing traditional First Nations food and tracking down British Columbia’s iconic wildlife. The Klahoose Wilderness Resort and the Spirit Bear Lodge are just two of the best examples.

Explore Journeyscape’s wide range of holidays including indigenous experiences such as our 15-day Native America Country.

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