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Canada NAT

The Culture and Beauty of the Great White North

In understanding and researching indigenous history, it is sometimes easy to forget that people lived and thrived throughout all of North America dating back to prehistoric times – not just within what is now the United States. That’s one reason Canada is often overlooked as a tourist destination for those seeking to explore and experience Native culture and heritage.

But that shouldn’t be the case. Canada is home to some of the most breathtaking parks on indigenous lands anywhere in the world, and also has dozens of cultural centers dedicated to preserving and teaching Native stories, heritage and traditions passed down through the generations. Here, we’ll give just a sample of them.

But first, a little background.

What are the main indigenous tribes of Canada?

There are three main indigenous groups of Canada: the First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

The Inuit primarily inhabit the northern regions of Canada. Their ancestral homeland, known as Inuit Nunangat, essentially encompasses the Arctic region, very similar to the Inupiat and others in the far north of Alaska. Inuit translates into “people,” and the language they speak is called Inuktitut. However, there are dozens of regional dialects that differ slightly from Inuktitut.

As one can imagine, the Inuit people have had to endure extreme cold temperatures, and developed tools and shelter that helped them adapt. They survived primarily on fish and sea mammals such as seals and walruses, still commonly found in the Arctic today.

There are approximately 70,000 Inuit in Canada, however the vast majority live in very small communities, usually not numbering more than 1,000 residents, spread out throughout the Arctic. These Inuit communities are desolate, remote and very poor, detached thousands of miles away from any urban centers where everyday goods or jobs are available. Some of these communities are only accessible by plane.

When the Canadian government formally recognized the Inuit claims to the land, the residents changed the name of the region to Nunavut, which translates to “our land” in Inuktitut.

Métis peoples are considered to be of mixed ancestry of indigenous and European settlers, and live mostly in the Prairie provinces and Ontario. Specifically, the Métis people originated in the early 18th century, when French and Scottish fur traders married and had children with Cree and Anishinabe women. Their descendants formed a unique culture, usually along fur trader routes, drawing from both European and Native heritage, and established nationhood in the Northwest.

First Nations peoples were the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, often occupying all the territories south of the Arctic (or south of the tree line). They are by far the most populous, and most well known, of Canada’s indigenous population.

First Nations

There are over 634 recognized First Nations governments or bands, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The total population with First Nation identity is more than 850,000.

What is extraordinary about the First Nations people is that each of those 634 governments has its own unique culture, customs, spiritual beliefs and traditions. Each of these unique cultures is derived from their own specific surroundings, their sacred land.

There is one common element however: The circle. All First Nations people throughout Canada recognize the circle as the universal symbol of life, specifically the cycle of life that must be respected and cherished. The circle represents the interconnection and interdependence of all forms of life on one another, and the symbol is often the focus of countless Tribal ceremonies, worship, songs and traditions.

Visiting Indigenous Canada

Generally speaking, there are two primary types of indigenous tourism: adventurous and educational. Many Native lands encompass some of the most extraordinary natural wonders in the world, such as Antelope Canyon in the Navajo Nation, Havasu Falls within the Havasupai Indian Reservation, or the countless glaciers and rivers of Alaska. Other Native sites have gone to great lengths to protect and preserve their history and culture, expending enormous capital to build some of the greatest Native museums anywhere. Examples include the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum within the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida.

In Canada, as one can imagine, there are Native lands that are perfect for the great outdoor adventure – exotic wildlife, lakes, mountains, and even glaciers. There are also several Cultural Centers, which offer incredible tours for those hoping to learn more about Native life and history, and the incredible diversity of culture and tradition that makes Indigenous Canada what it is.

So without further ado, here are some of the best places to visit in Native Canada.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s first and most visited national park, with over 3 million visitors a year. Located In the heart of the Rockies in Alberta, the park’s extraordinary mountain scenery and serene lakes draw visitors from all over the world for hiking, biking, skiing and camping.

However, the park is also rich in Canadian indigenous heritage, and several Native tour guides are available to take you on guided, cultural tours. There’s a medicine walk where guides identify flora and fauna and their healing properties. There’s native mountain hike tours that explore the history of the Cascade Ponds and possibly even come across ancient petroglyphs and other Native art.

Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bruce Peninsula National Park

Just about a four hour drive from Toronto, in Tobermory, Ontario, is the Bruce Peninsula National Park, an incredible biosphere reserve that boasts wildlife such as black bears and rare species of all kinds. World renowned for waterfront beauty, intricate caves and limescale cliffs, the park also offers truly immersive Native culture experiences for those who seek them.

The Anishinaabe People resided in this area for centuries, and continue to have a deep connection to the land, and all the living things within it. Today Tribal members offer visitors tours that provide a window into their cultural and spiritual customs and history, even telling stories of the Anishinaabe People exactly as they were told through generations. These educational tours can be found at Cape Croker Park, a campground within Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Black River Wilderness Park

Located just 90 minutes north of Toronto, the 180-acre Black River Wilderness Park is another example of a site that allows visitors to completely immerse themselves in the culture and history of the Native people that have lived there for centuries.

Guests may stay the night in a yurt or tipi, attend workshops on Native arts and crafts, or even learn to play traditional drums. The Chippewas of Rama First Nation who call this park home enjoy taking visitors on guided tours of the surrounding wilderness, and teaching the importance of the Eastern white pine. More importantly, they enjoy teaching about the Seven Grandfather teachings passed down from the Creator, and that are at the center of community culture. These are: Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth.

Forillon National Park

Forillon National Park was the very first national park in Quebec, where the Chic-Choc Mountains converge with the sea. It is famous for its exotic wildlife – such as birds and reptiles – colorful and vibrant plantlife, and natural beauty. It is also one of the most popular sites in North America for whale watching.

The Mi’gmaq and their ancestors, the area’s first inhabitants, have been regular visitors at the Penouille Peninsula for nearly 4,000 years, and lived primarily through fishing. The Grande-Grave National Heritage Site offers unique insights to ancient fishing families and culture. There is even a beautifully preserved 19th-century era fishing village.

Just a few minutes down the road sits the Gespeg Interpretation Site, which showcases the Mi’gmaq culture of the indigenous community in Gaspé. Through interpretive activities, the site highlights the history of their community, which dates back to 1675, when the Gespeg Mi’gmac settled in Gaspé Bay, getting its name from the Mi’gmac word “gespeg,” which translates to “where the earth ends.”

Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island in Ontario, is the largest freshwater lake island in the world, and one of the more popular attractions for outdoor enthusiasts anywhere in Canada.

The diverse ecology of the island provides for just about everything a nature lover could ask for. Breathtaking waterfalls, winding trails, awe-inspiring overlooks and of course incredible lake views are just some of the natural beauty Manitoulin Island has to offer.

However, there is also a rich cultural aspect as well. No less than seven First Nations reserves can be found on Manitoulin, each welcoming tourists to share in their culture and history. There are seemingly countless museums and Native art galleries, as well as traditional pow wows and events that immerse you in the community spirit and history of the Anishnabek people. Nearly every weekend includes a different festival, dance, market or event to attend.

Tombstone Territorial Park

Tombstone Territorial Park, located less than 180 miles from the Arctic Circle, is home to a unique wilderness of rugged peaks, permafrost landforms and abundant wildlife in the Yukon territory. It is also home to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch, a First Nation band that has lived here for thousands of years.

Ancient artifacts, paintings and burial grounds are all found within this park. In fact, there are over 70 protected First Nations ecological and archeological sites at Tombstone. Like many other indigenous landmarks, the park is also well known for its extraordinary natural beauty, monuments and wildlife. The area’s Hän name Ddhäl Ch’èl Cha Nän means “ragged mountain land.”

The Dempster Highway bisects the park and provides an opportunity to witness the incredible arctic wilderness, tundras and wildlife from your vehicle, while also providing easy access to hiking trails.

Kluane National Park and Reserve

Kluane National Park and Reserve, also located in Canada’s Yukon territory, is part of the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Kluane First Nation.

The Reserve includes the highest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan (19,551 feet) of the Saint Elias Mountains, as well as its largest ice field. Mountains and glaciers, including Donjek Glacier, dominate the park’s landscape, covering 83% of its area. The rest of the land in the park is forest and tundra.

Closeby is Vuntut National Park, Yukon’s only fly-in community, and easily one of the most difficult parks to travel to in Canada. Vuntut is home to the Vuntut Gwitchin people, which in their language means “people of the lakes.” They still practice the same lifestyle and customs as they have for generations. This includes tracking the migration of Porcupine Caribou Herd, as they wander back and forth between Yukon and Alaska every year.

If you decide to travel to Vuntut National Park remember it is pure arctic wilderness. Visitors must be entirely self-sufficient and able to handle any medical or weather-related emergency on their trip.

Baffin Island

Baffin Island is considered to be one of the more popular tourist attractions in the arctic, at least for those with an adventurous spirit.

The fifth largest island on Earth, visitors can choose from any number of experiences, from going dog sledding, to whale watching on arctic ocean tours, to cross country skiing, to rock climbing, to even building your own igloo. Tourists can spot narwhal, beluga, and polar bears during an Arctic Safari. All of these incredible adventures are led by local Inuit guides, who take great pride in sharing and educating visitors about their ancestral homeland.

Outdoor enthusiasts may climb Clyde River’s fjord walls, or ski or hike one of the island’s 19 named peaks, of which Angilaaq Mountain is the tallest and most prominent.

Sirmilik National Park

Roughly translated to “the place of glaciers”, Sirmilik National Park is located on the north end of Baffin Island. It is also sometimes called the “Yosemite of the North,” thanks to an amazing array of wildlife and seabirds that are easily seen by tourists, such as snowy owls, narwhal and, of course, polar bears.

Adventurers love to ski the park’s many glaciers, birdwatch from the sea cliffs, or go paddling in the icy waters among the seals and walruses, but the park is also home to the Inuit who not only offer tours of Sirmilik but also showcase their own cultural sites, complete with traditional ceremonies and storytelling.

Kejimkujik National Park

Kejimkujik National Park is the ancestral home of the Mi’kmaq People, and their petroglyphs and relics can be found throughout the park. Kejimkujik is a national historic site and is considered a preservation of the Mi’kmaq culture and history that dates back to a time before the pyramids of Egypt.

Many of the petroglyphs and ancient artwork found within the park show many early Mi’kmaw traditions, such as hunting, fishing and canoeing. Locals offer guided tours of some of the most extraordinary artifacts and paintings, so you can be sure to see them for yourself. You can even rent canoes and take the same canoe routes as the First Nations people millenia ago. However, Kejimkujik Lake apparently translates to “tired muscles” in Mi’kmaq, meaning the routes may not be as easy to navigate as they seem.

The park also is home to Nova Scotia’s only Dark Sky Preserve, which makes it a destination for stargazers across the world. Thousands upon thousands of stars can be seen at night, as can certain planets depending on the time of year.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Perhaps the least enticing name of all the indigenous landmarks in Canada, but one of the most important historical sites in terms of enhancing our understanding of ancient Native life.

6,000 years ago, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, located in what is now southern Alberta, Canada, was home to a sophisticated hunting technique by the Great Plains tribes to successfully hunt bison. These ancient hunters used natural barriers such as coulees, depressions and hills to funnel the bison into drive lanes that ended at a steep cliff, over which the bison were stampeded. The animals’ carcasses were then butchered in a camp set up below the cliff to provide food and the materials for clothing and other materials.

According to Blackfoot legend, a young boy wanted to watch the buffalo jumping off the cliff from below. When the bison carcasses were taken away the boy’s dead body was found – with his head smashed in, which is where the name of the landmark comes from.

Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is now a popular tourist destination, as people travel from all over the world to learn about the cultural significance of this cliff to the Plains People, through incredible exhibits and knowledgeable guides. During the summer months, First Nations dancers and drummers perform to commemorate the hunt.

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park

One of the few Native tribes recognized in both the United States and Canada, the Blackfoot people have a long, rich heritage that is celebrated, taught and observed in this unique Native American landmark. Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park is a place where tourists can indulge in the full Blackfoot cultural experience, through exhibitions, performances, and teachings.

The Blackfoot consists of three bands: the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani Nations, however it is the Siksika Nation reserve that resides within this park.

Visitors can expect a full range of cultural and educational opportunities, such as Native guided tours, visiting the incredible Blackfoot Crossing museum, taking in a traditional theatrical performance or dance, or even spending the night in a buffalo hide tipi. Tourists may also take a step back in time and tour the site where Treaty no 7 was signed between the crown and the Blackfoot in 1877, formerly recognizing the tribe. There are even educational programs for visiting school trips, including Blackfoot Language classes, workshops and storytelling.

For those that really wish to indulge in Native history and heritage, the park also is home to Chief Crowfoot’s Tipi Village, where local Tribal members demonstrate traditional skills and customs.

Huron Village on the Huron-Wendat Reservation

Just a 15 minute drive from Québec City sits the Huron Traditional Site, located in Wendake, on the Huron-Wendat Reservation. This site is an actual recreation of a traditional Huron village from centuries ago, designed and constructed based on historical records to make it as authentic as possible.

Visitors are able to take a guided tour from local Natives, partake in Huron activities, learn Native craft skills, even go on a shaman’s quest.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Located just above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon, and one of the most important and culturally significant archaeological sites anywhere in Canada, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park has been drawing tourists and scientists alike since it first opened 30 years ago.

Saskatchewan’s Northern Plains tribes hunted buffalo and roamed this land 6,000 years ago, as soon as the Opimihaw Creek valley became capable of human occupation. Countless other Native tribes migrated to this location as well, due to its abundant natural resources and wildlife.

The Wanuskewin Heritage Park today boasts one of the greatest collections of ancient historical artifacts in North America, with no less than 19 known archaeological dig sites within the relatively small region. Some artifacts are some of the oldest found of any ancient civilization on Earth.

These archaeological dig sites are available to be viewed via guided tour, as are many ancient trails that can still be explored today. Visitors may even stay in a tipi, or camp overnight in this incredibly historically significant park.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

The newest Cree community, the community of Oujé- Bougoumou, is located on the shores of Opémisca Lake in Eeyou Istchee, in Quebec, Canada. It is quite the intimate experience for those who make the trek. The community has a population of just 795 people.

Located in the middle of the Oujé- Bougoumou is the highly awarded and recognized Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, honored with the We the Peoples’ award by the United Nations. The museum and exhibit is one of the best institutions for learning Cree culture and history anywhere in the world. Artifacts that date back to 3000 BC give an eye-opening exploration into life in ancient times on this land, as does a well-preserved archive within their library. Local Tribal members throughout the village welcome visitors, and are often happy to exchange stories, arts and lessons in history.

Metepenagiag Heritage Park

Perhaps one of the most deeply spiritual indigenous attractions in all of Canada, Metepenagiag Heritage Park in the New Brunswick province is practically a bucket list stop for those who want to not only visit indigenous land, but experience it.

Visiting this park is a walk back in time, to 3,000 years ago when Mi’kmaq First Nations fished and lived off the land and sea. Tourists immerse themselves in Mi’kmaq culture, whether it is sleeping in a tipi on the powwow grounds or visiting ancient burial grounds at Augustine Mound – a cemetery dating back to over 600 BC. Tourists often say their favorite experience is simply sitting down and listening to the elders tell stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

Metepenagiag is essentially a small village, representing the Mi’kmaq who has lived on these lands continuously for every one of those 3,000 years – making it one of New Brunswick’s oldest continuously inhabited communities. Visitors walk on the same paths as these Tribal members have for thousands of years, while enjoying educational guided tours by Tribal members about the land, the people and the countless ancient artifacts that have been found over the years.

Northern Rockies

Want to really get away?

The vast Native American lands of the Northern Rockies are waiting for you

Sometimes you just need a break.

While visiting big cities, giant amusement parks or crowded events may seem like a great vacation to some, others need a vacation where they can unplug, take in the Great American outdoors, and just – finally – relax.  Maybe even learn something new, and have an incredible cultural and spiritual experience to refresh your mind and spirit.

If this is you, it might be time to think about a trip to the Northern Rockies – namely the Native American homelands in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho.  This region is not only known for its incredible national parks and stunning natural beauty, but also for its amazing geographic and cultural diversity.  Whether it’s the badlands, plains, soaring mountaintops, vast canyons or breathtaking glaciers, you won’t believe how much there is to see so relatively close together.  It’s a vacation you won’t ever forget (or likely want to leave).

So let’s get to it.  Here are the best Native places to visit in the Northern Rockies states, that you may not even know about.


Devil’s Tower

One of the most iconic natural monuments of the west, Devil’s Tower is a laccolithic butte standing 867 feet high in northeastern Wyoming.  It was the very first National Monument in the United States, dedicated in 1906 by President Teddy Roosevelt.

However, the history of the incredible structure far predates that.  Known as Bear Lodge by the Cheyenne, Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, Kiowa and other tribes for centuries, it was the spiritual epicenter of the area.  Countless indigenous ceremonies and services have taken place at the base of this tower, as tribal elders pass down stories about it from generation to generation.

One Crow tribe legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing two young women, after The Great Spirit grew the rock far out of the ground, so the women could escape the bear.  The two women still sit atop the tower, fearful of the bear should they ever come down.

Some interesting facts: The name “Devils Tower” actually comes from a misinterpretation, when white explorers misread Bear Lodge as “Bad Gods Tower.”  Also, the monument was featured in the 1977 Stephen Spielberg movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Today, the natural wonder remains a sacred site to the indigenous people that have lived in the region for centuries.  It is a place for worship, for paying tribute to the deceased, for celebrations of life and nature.  Tourists often come across these sacred rituals during their visit, such as the Sun Dance.  Others find cloths, art or other native items around the base of the monument, left as prayer offerings or in memoriam.  The small, colored bundles of cloth are the most commonly seen tributes around the base of Devils Tower, and are considered to be sacred.  So it is important that visitors not disturb them in any way,

Tourists may partake in one of the ranger-led programs, spend the night on the grounds camping, go hiking and or even climb to the top of Devils Tower.  In fact, more than 150 rock climbing routes have been established on Devils Tower and attracts rock climbers from all over the world, even though many tribe members consider climbing a desecration of the sacred site.  That is why Devils Tower closes to rock climbing every June, so tribes may practice their ceremonies in peace and without the distraction of climbers dangling from their sacred monument.

Wind River Indian Reservation

The seventh largest Native American Reservation in the continental United States has just about everything an outdoor adventurer or naturalist could possibly hope for.

Totaling a staggering 2.2 million acres, the Wind River Indian Reservation is home to no less than 240 lakes, and countless streams and rivers.  It is also home to thousands of members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, along with the communities of the Arapaho, Crowheart, Ethete and Fort Washakie.  It is the only reservation in America where the government allowed Native Americans to choose their own land.

Wind River is mostly famous for two main outdoor enthusiast tourist attractions: the Absaroka Mountains and Boysen State Park. The Absaroka Mountains attract adventurers from around the globe, known mostly for hunting and fishing expeditions in the summers and skiing and snowmobiling in the winters.  The mountains themselves are volcanic breccia created from years of lava flows.

The Boysen Reservoir is considered a bucket list for avid fishermen, with game fish in abundance such as largemouth bass, bluegill, stonecat, black bullhead, mountain whitefish, lake trout and dozens of other species.

However, the reservation is rich in true Native experiences as well.

The Vore Buffalo Jump is one of the most historically significant archaeological sites of the region, a natural sinkhole that was used as a bison trap from about 1500 to 1800 A.D by at least five different tribes.  It has been said that over 10,000 bison were caught there.  It is open to the public during the summer months, and when it is, tourists can learn not only about the techniques the tribes used to trap bison, the food and other products they were able to use from the buffalo, but also the cultural and spiritual elements of the hunt as well.

Every summer, the Eagle Spirit Singers and Dancers – made up of Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho dancers – perform every Wednesday night through August 12 at the Museum of the American West in Lander.   Each performance begins with a grand entrance where the dancers enter the circle, followed by various styles of dance – traditional, fancy feather, grass, jingle dress, fancy shawl and hoop dancing.  You’ll learn about the dance styles, meet the dancers and the drum group.  Performances are free, and children and cameras are welcome.

The largest annual event on the reservation is Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, a three-day celebration traditionally held the last week of June at Fort Washakie powwow grounds.  Hundreds of dancers come together to compete for large prizes and the community enjoys traditional Native arts, food and games.  The event features one of the largest powwows in the region and a reenactment of the signing of the Treaty of 1868.


Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the continental United States, and becoming more popular by the day.  Last year over 3 million people visited the park, a number that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

As the name suggests, the park is home to 25 active glaciers – one of the only places you can see glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska.  With over 200 gorgeous lakes, waterfalls and just about every landscape you can imagine across 1,600 square miles, Glacier National Park is a must see for any outdoor or nature enthusiast.

The land has traditionally been the home of the Blackfeet, or Blackfoot, tribe.  The Blackfeet are divided into three bands – the Piegan, the Blood and the Siksika – and hunted bison on these lands for centuries.  Tensions between the Blackfeet and the United States government have existed for well over 100 years, after the park was established in the late nineteenth century and Blackfeet rights to access the mountains – which they consider sacred and the backbone of the world – were stripped, along with hunting and fishing rights.

However, over the decades, relations between park officials and the tribe have improved, and tribal members welcome visitors onto their reservation and offer tours of Glacier National Park from the Blackfeet perspective – explaining in detail the wildlife and plantlife on the preserve, and how their ancestors used them for medicine and food.  Each summer, tourists are treated to an extensive series of presentations and performances by members of the Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai and Kalispel tribes.  Today, approximately 10,000 Blackfeet live within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

For many visitors, the highlight of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a jaw-dropping 50 mile, paved two-lane highway that spans the width of Glacier National Park going east and west.  In 1983 Going-To-The-Sun Road was included in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1985 was made a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

The road gives the visitor a spectacular view of everything from glaciers, to forests, to lakes to windswept tundra.  Scenic viewpoints and stops are lined up throughout the road in both directions, so drivers can stop for extended views and photos.  For example, on the road’s east side, tourists can witness the park’s disappearing glaciers on the Jackson Glacier Overlook.  On the west side of the road, visitors get a great look at Bird Woman Falls, a 560 foot waterfall over a hanging valley left behind by a tributary glacier that had since receded.

Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel, located in the Bighorn National Forest on the western peak of Medicine Mountain, is one of the most fascinating ancient archaeological finds in North America.

While scientists have discovered dozens of medicine wheels throughout the great plains and Canada (anywhere from 70 to 150), the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is the most famous and well preserved.  It was one of the first to be scientifically and archaeologically studied, and continues to be to this day,

The Medicine Wheel is roughly 75 feet in diameter, with circular alignment of rocks extending from the center.  From an aerial view it looks similar to an old wagon wheel.  Researchers believe that evidence found at the site dates it back nearly 7,000 years to the prehistoric era.  Artifacts unearthed in and around the wheel identify with the Shoshone and Crow tribes from the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

The exact usage of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is still largely unknown, but it is clear that it has been sacred Native American grounds for millennia.  Several ancient ceremonial staging areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars and fasting enclosures are in plain sight close by.  Many tourists who make the trek up to the hallowed ground speak of being able to feel the spiritual power of the Medicine Wheel, and a connection to the ancient people who worshiped there.

Little Bighorn National Monument

Known mostly as Custer Battlefield National Monument until 1991, Little Bighorn National Monument is pretty much what you’d expect: a tribute to the fallen Lakotas and Cheyennes who defeated Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s US Army 7th Cavalry in one of the most famous, and last, victorious Native counter offensives to preserve their way of life.   Originally preserved to protect the graves of the U.S. soldiers who died there, the historical site has since shifted from once only paying tribute to Custer and his fallen troops to incorporating the tribes’ perspective and sacrifices in the conflict, to tell the true history of the battle.

In the late nineteenth century, after news of the discovery of gold on Sioux land spread, Custer and his troops were sent in to drive them further off of their land in violation of a peace treaty between the United States and the Sioux.

Custer was ordered only to contain the Native tribes until reinforcements arrived. However the over-confident Custer decided to fight the Sioux on his own.  On June 25 and 26th of 1876, Custer, along with the entire 7th Cavalry were decimated by an estimated three thousand Indian warriors, led by Chief Crazy Horse.

North Dakota

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

An often overlooked tourist destination is Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the oldest state park in North Dakota.  The park is a portal traveling back in time, a way to experience first hand what life was like for Native Americans and US soldiers alike in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The land was once home to Mandan Native Americans who lived at On-a-Slant Village for an estimated 200 years, near the base of the Heart River with the Missouri River.  Roughly 1000 Mandan Natives lived in an estimated 75-100 earth lodges before a 1781 smallpox epidemic nearly wiped them out.

The site has preserved important archeological artifacts of the original On-a-Slant Village.  The Visitor Center Museum is also a tremendous resource to learn all about Mandan life and culture, while the park offers interactive experiences such as interpretive tours, visiting one of five reconstructed earth lodges or camping for the night in a real tipi.

Of course, Fort Abraham Lincoln was also where a military post was established to provide a base of operations for the US Army’s ongoing campaigns against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne nations between 1876 and 1877.  Abandoned in 1891, the remnants of the fort are still well preserved, as tourists can peek inside furnished barracks or officer quarters and gain an understanding of what life was like for the soldiers living there.

The park offers over 100 campsites as well, so visitors can take in the breathtaking natural beauty of the sacred site, whether it is the incredible views of the Heart and Missouri Rivers at sunrise or the crystal clear skies at night.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Another great site to experience Native American history first hand, the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site features a fully restored earth lodge, a Hidatsa garden, and village sites where tourists can see the archaeological remains of the Awatixa Xi’e Village, Awatixa Village and the Big Hidatsa village, which was established around 1600 (although Awatixa Xi’e is believed to be the oldest village).

The site preserves the historic and archaeological remnants of bands of Hidatsa, Northern Plains Indians along what once was a major trading outpost.  The exhibits feature artifacts recovered from the village sites as well as decorative arts of Northern Plains Indians.  There are also several incredible trails, including one that runs along the Knife River.

White Horse Hill National Game Preserve

One of the most extraordinary big game reserves anywhere in the United States, the 1,674-acre White Horse Hill National Game Preserve on the south shores of Devils Lake is a must see for any outdoors enthusiast.

One of the most popular attractions in North Dakota, over 80,000 tourists visit each year to witness American bison, elk, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other wildlife up close, not to mention the vast eco-community that includes oak, ash, basswood, and aspen woodlands, mixed-grass prairie, and interspersed wetlands.  More than 250 species of birds have been recorded at the Preserve as well, making the preserve a destination for hikers and bird-watchers year-round.

Most tourists prefer to hike, take photographs and explore the preserve on their own, but for others there are auto tours, and several other opportunities for visitors and school outings to learn about the animals and natural wonders from trained and knowledgeable staff.


Nez Perce National Historical Park

There are five federally recognized Native American tribes in Idaho: Nez Perce, Kootenai, Shoshone-Bannock, Shoshone-Paiute, and Coeur d’Alene.  All reservations are worth a visit, as all go to great lengths to preserve and teach their history and culture for future generations, often in the midst of incredible natural beauty and world class entertainment.  But if you are seeking true adventure and history, there is one park that cannot be overlooked.

The Nez Perce National Historical Park comprises 38 discontiguous sites spanning three main ecoregions, across the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.  These are the traditional lands of the Nez Perce people, and the 38 sites have been designated to commemorate the stories, culture and history of the Nez Perce over the centuries.  The park’s headquarters is located in Spalding, Idaho.

This includes sites associated with the Nez Perce War of 1877, and the flight of Chief Joseph and his band, who in June 1877 migrated from Oregon in an attempt to avoid capture in Canada after fighting against relocation. They were pursued relentlessly by the U.S. Army and fought several battles against them during the Nez Perce War, when the Nez Perce reservation was reduced to one-tenth its original size and Tribal members were evicted from their homeland and forced to relocate onto a new reservation.  The war eventually ended with Chief Joseph’s surrender in the Montana Territory.

First, “Nez Perce” is a bit of a misnomer.  The actual name of the tribe, what they called themselves, is “Nimi’ipuu”, translated in Sahaptin as ‘we, the people’.  However, French-Canadian fur trappers translated the name as “pierced nose” despite the fact that the tribe did not pierce their noses.  Still, the French “Nezz Purse” name remained, all the way to the present day.

The best place to start your visit is the National Historic Museum and Visitor Center located 10 miles east of Lewiston, Idaho.  This is an excellent resource to learn all about the tribe and its unique history, art and culture, not to mention the tribe’s advancements in ranching and agriculture technology that rivals any civilization of its era.  Park staff also provide tours and talks that include museum tours and tipi pitching.

55 miles east of the Visitors Center is the historic Heart of the Monster, a 53 acre site sacred to the Nez Perce people within the breathtaking Clearwater River valley.  According to legend, Iceye’ye (Coyote) killed a large monster along the Clearwater River, thus creating the different tribes in the region, including the Nimiipuu. A rock formation in the area is said to represent the heart of the monster described in the legend.

This site has an interpretive shelter with two exhibits and an audio program. These give you the background information on the role of legends in Nez Perce culture and tell part of the “Coyote and the Monster” legend in Nez Perce and in English. A short trail leads to the “Heart of the Monster” feature and a small semi circle of seating.

Another great way to explore the reservation is to take a trip down the river to Buffalo Eddy, and witness the petroglyphs left behind by Nez Perce ancestors thousands of years ago.  There are two groups of rock formations with several petroglyphs on both sides of the Snake River. One side is in Washington and one side is in Idaho.

In Idaho, there are several other sites of the reservation that are well worth the visit as well.

The Ant and Yellowjacket were arguing over who had the right to sit on a particular rock to enjoy some Salmon when they got into an argument. Coyote asked them to stop. They continued to fight despite Coyote’s warnings, so Coyote turned them into a stone arch.  The Ant and Yellowjacket monument is a popular stop for amateur and professional photographers alike.

Weis Rockshelter was the home of prehistoric ancestors of the Nez Perce, which dates as far as back as 8,000 years ago.  The shelter is not a cave, but a small niche in a wall of basalt. The shelter was continuously inhabited until about 600 years ago.

The White Bird Battlefield is the location of the first battle of the Nez Perce Flight of 1877, or more accurately, the first battle of the Nez Perce War.  US Captain David Perry and his cavalry troops moved into the canyon to attack the Nez Perce who were sheltering in one of their winter villages. The soldiers encountered a peace party of six Nez Perce warriors carrying a white flag riding towards them.

When the peace party was shot at, The Nez Perce charged and the U.S. cavalry was decimated. The victorious Nez Perce then began their long walk to find safety and sanctuary.  A self-guided walking tour of the battlefield is recommended to learn more about the people and tactics used in the conflict.