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Native American Art and Artifacts

When people think of museums, their minds often go straight to history. And many times, when people think of Native Americans, they also go straight to history, picturing the archetypal 1800s Plains Indians sitting on horseback.

But these Native American museums are more than dusty archives. Although they do catalog their long history and recount their proud heritage, telling their creation stories, showcasing their traditional tools and teaching about their people’s past, they also bring visitors into the tribe’s current world.

Visitors can view Comanche fine-art collections, buy contemporary art made by Oneida students and check out wearable Iroquois art displayed in the “Buckskin to Bikinis” exhibit.


Explore Navajo Interactive Museum

Tuba City, Arizona

The Explore Navajo Interactive Museum was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a cultural exhibit. After the Olympics, the pavilion sat in storage for a few years until Navajo leaders rebuilt it in 2007 in Tuba City, Arizona, which serves as a gateway to the Navajo Nation and to Grand Canyon National Park.

The 7,000-square-foot museum is housed in a domed building that slightly resembles a Navajo hogan. Because four is a sacred number to the Navajo, exhibits are divided into four quadrants to represent the four directions and the four seasons, which play major roles in Navajo beliefs and customs, said Donovan Hanley, director of sales for the Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise.

Guided tours are available, and exhibits showcase Navajo history from traditional stories to current government. A video recounting the Navajo creation story is often a “wow” moment because “there’s not that much out there showcasing that [creation] story,” Hanley said. Visitors can also step inside a replica of a hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling.

“They get to feel, touch, walk in the sand and really get a sense of what traditional living was like,” Hanley said, although this hogan has electricity and lights.

The museum can also arrange demonstrations of rug weaving, basket weaving and silversmithing; bring in a traditional storyteller; and provide a step-on guide.

Museum tickets include admission to the Navajo Code Talker Museum, which is across the plaza at the Tuba City Trading Post. The Navajo soldiers who used their language for World War II communications donated most of the artifacts on display: stories, photos and equipment. The Navajo Code Talkers Association is working to raise funds for a permanent museum in Window Rock, the Navajo Nation capital, Hanley said.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.