Courtesy Visit Santa Fe
Published March 27, 2017
Group travel is increasingly becoming an immersive experience: Travelers can get to know a city and its people by exploring homegrown favorites, enjoying the region’s cuisine and experiencing activities that allow outsiders to feel like locals for a day.
These five destinations from across North America are filled with heritage, attractions, local cuisine and even accommodations that create a perfect fit for groups looking for total immersion into Native American culture.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is a convenient hub for exploring the native cultures of northern New Mexico, where native groups have lived for thousands of years. With more native people still living on their original land in the state than the entire area east of the Mississippi River, the area provides many opportunities for groups looking for authentic experiences.
“You can see a deer dancer petroglyph that’s 1,000 years old, then go to the pueblo and see a deer dancer doing the same dance that was depicted in the petroglyph,” said John Feins, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe.
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian are just three of the many museums in the city but are highlights for groups interested in the native cultures of the region.
One of the largest events of the year is the Santa Fe Indian Market in August. Going on for 95 years, the market has grown to include more than 1,000 artists from over 100 tribes. This year, the market will take place August 19-20. A newer counterpart, the Indigenous Fine Art Market, is also growing in popularity. This festival, which takes place the same week as the Indian Market, focuses exclusively on contemporary Native American art but affords the same opportunities to peruse and purchase art.
For groups who can’t visit the Indian Market, there are artists working year-round at the Palace of the Governors. The historic building has been in continual use for over 400 years.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Rapid City, in western South Dakota, sits in the center of Sioux culture, as well as among some of the most iconic attractions in the nation. Natural wonders like the Black Hills and the Badlands, and the man-made masterpiece the Crazy Horse Monument, are all an easy trip from Rapid City.
For groups spending some time in town, the Prairie Edge Trading Company in downtown is a great place to stop and look for a unique Native American souvenir. The shop includes gallery space with stunning works of art upstairs and shopping downstairs. Travelers can bring home sweetgrass braids, a Pendleton blanket or jewelry created by Native American artisans. Another popular stop is the Journey Museum, which tells the geological and cultural history of the Black Hills, from the rocks and formations that make up the landscape to the people who have called it home.
The Pine Ridge Reservation, an up-and-coming destination a short distance from Rapid City, is beginning to appear on itineraries. Groups may be interested in seeing historic sites such as Wounded Knee, the site of the 1890 massacre and the 1973 protest that is part of the Oglala Lakota reservation lands. Also on the reservation is the Heritage Center at the Red Cloud Indian School, a museum and cultural center that celebrates Lakota culture and Native American art.
Cherokee, North Carolina
Cherokee is nestled in mountains off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The city is a beautiful destination known for its Native American heritage and abundance of outdoor activities.
The Museum of the Cherokee tells the story of the Cherokee tribe’s identity and history, from its early days to the Trail of Tears period and modern culture. Groups can also book a Cherokee Experience at the museum, which includes a Cherokee language course as well as a cultural workshop or traditional performance by a Cherokee dance group.
One of the most popular attractions during the summer season is the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a re-creation of an 18th-century Cherokee village. Groups have the option of taking a guided tour of the Cherokee huts, roundhouse and different cultural demonstrations or exploring on their own. Also adjacent to the village is a botanical garden that features various regional plants the Cherokee use for food and medicine.
Groups visiting Cherokee should also plan to include a performance of “Unto These Hills,” a story based on the life of Tsali, an important figure who is considered responsible for the Eastern Band of Cherokee being allowed to remain on their native lands in the hills of North Carolina. This year will feature a new production rewritten to be more historically accurate but will still feature the “beautiful story of Tsali’s sacrifice for his people,” according to Robert Jumper of Visit Cherokee. The show runs May through August.
In the suburbs of Quebec City, about 150 miles west of Presque Isle, Maine, Wendake — pronounced Wen-dah-kee — is a popular destination to experience the Huron and Wendat cultures.
The Huron-Wendat Traditional Site should be included in any trip to the area. Visitors to the traditional site can enjoy cultural demonstrations and try their hand at making cornhusk dolls, or listen to tribal members share their historic and modern ways of life. Groups can book an overnight stay in the longhouse or add an evening to gather around the fire and listen to tribal members share myths and legends under the stars.
Another popular stop for groups is the Huron Wendat Museum. The permanent exhibit tells the history of the Huron-Wendat nation, from the tribal creation myth through modern times. Groups can also add a tour of the nearby Tsawenhohi House, which originally belonged to the Grand Chief Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi, who was declared a National Historic Person by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2001. Three grand chiefs have lived in the home during its time as a personal residence.
Wendake is also home to multiple First Nations restaurants. La Sagamite is a stand-alone restaurant that highlights Huron-Wendat cuisine, with dishes such as a three sisters soup and a selection of game meats and seafood on their menu. Their signature dish features game meats that are flambeed right at your table. There is also the Nek8arre restaurant at the Huron-Wendat site that features a selection of entrees that include buffalo, duck and salmon, as well as indigenous dishes such as sunflower seed soup. Guests looking for a total experience should also check out the Hotel-Museé Premieres Nations, which features overnight accommodations with rooms that highlight indigenous culture and an on-site First Nations restaurant.