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Native American Cultural Legacies

For any traveler interested in more than a cursory understanding of local history, an opportunity to dive into the deeper heritage of America’s native people can present itself in almost any region of the continent.

Native Americans by and large did not have written accounts of their history before European settlement, but that does not mean that their culture has been lost. In every region, groups can visit the places that held significance for the first people, and the following are just a sampling of what’s out there waiting to be explored.


Wickliffe Mounds

Wickliffe, Kentucky

At the time of European settlement of Kentucky, no Native American tribes lived in the area, although different tribes held territorial hunting rights or considered parts of the area sacred. But much earlier, mound-building people lived in the region surrounding the Mississippi River. Wickliffe Mounds is just such a village that existed between 1100 and 1350 where people built permanent houses and large earthen mounds.

“The mounds were excavated in the 1930s by archaeologists, and the original blocks and artifacts they found were put on display,” said Carla Hildebrand, park manager. “Murray State University conducted more archaeological investigations in the 1980s and again in the 1990s to help us understand more about the site and the original excavation efforts.”

Visitors can see the excavated mounds, Mississippian-era pottery, stone tools and other artifacts that show how the people lived. They can also walk to the top of the unexcavated ceremonial mound, which overlooks the park and the bluffs.

Wickliffe was also the site of the 1780s-era Fort Jefferson, which was abandoned after a conflict with the Chickasaw, a Native American group that maintained hunting rights over the western Kentucky area. The Fort Jefferson Memorial Park and Wickliffe Mounds are all part of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, which stretches from its headwaters through 10 states to the Gulf of Mexico.


Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons

Midland, Ontario

In 1639, French Jesuit priests built a mission and settlement on the shores of the southern Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. It was the first European settlement in Ontario and only the fourth in Canada. The priests came to the area on the heels of fur traders to teach the Wendat people, “Huron” in French, about Christianity and intended to stay permanently. The Wendat were often in conflict with other Iroquois tribes, and by 1649, that conflict forced the residents of the mission to abandon it and to burn it to the ground, lest it be desecrated.

Their story of cultural contact between the Wendat and the Europeans was faithfully re-created through archaeological and historical investigations, and the settlement was rebuilt on its original site. Visitors will encounter guides in period costume that represent the Jesuit priests, the lay craftsmen who accompanied them and the Wendats who came to learn about Christianity. The buildings have been re-created; they include the native long houses that the Jesuits built for visiting Wendats.

“People who are trying to learn about Native American culture in Ontario usually start here. And it’s so important to us that in every school in Ontario, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons is a required unit of study,” said Bill Brodeur, coordinator of marketing and media relations. “Our site tells the bittersweet story of the Jesuits who came here with the best of intentions and all the potential fallout that comes with trying to introduce a new religion into an established culture.”