Meeting Native peoples and exploring their rich heritage is one of the highlights of a visit to the Southwest. There are more than 50 Native reservations in the region, offering insight into the history of the peoples, while feast days and local arts and crafts provide a window into their cultures.
t Three Navajo sisters, pictured in Monument Valley Tribal Park
Covering more than 25,000 sq miles (64,750 sq km) in New Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah, the Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the Southwest. Its spiritual center is Canyon de Chelly, but the terrain of Monument Valley Tribal Park is also sacred, with some areas accessible only with a Navajo guide.
New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes share religious and cultural beliefs, but speak five different languages. Most trace their lineage to the Ancestral Puebloan people who once lived at Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and other sites in the Southwest. Most pueblos produce distinctive arts and crafts, and tourism is an important source of income. Among the most visited are Taos Pueblo, with its multistoried dwellings, and Acoma Pueblo with its sweeping views.
Native American ceremonies often include spectacular displays of drumming, dancing, and traditional costumes. The best time to see these is during tribal feast day celebrations, often open to visitors, or at powwows such as the Gathering of Nations, when tribes meet from around the country.
Along with their close relatives, the Pima people, the Tohono O’odham live in Southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Due to the harsh nature of the environment here, neither tribe has ever been moved off its ancestral lands. Today, the Tohono O’odham are largely Christian – the mission church of San Xavier del Bac is on Tohono O’odham land south of Tucson.
Each tribal community has an artistic heritage that dates back centuries. Look for beautiful woven baskets, silver jewelry inlaid with precious stones, colorful textiles, and pottery with traditional motifs. Good places to buy crafts include museum shops, and in pueblos, markets, or reservations, where you can buy directly from the artists.
The Hopi are the only Pueblo tribe in Arizona. Deeply religious, their ceremonies focus on kachina spirit figures that symbolize all forms of nature. These are represented by intri-cately carved wooden dolls and ceremonial kachina dancers. Visit the Hopi Indian Reservation or experience their traditions at the Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture in Flagstaff.
This fascinating museum in Southern Arizona houses an exquisite collection of Native American artifacts. Regular programs give insights into the culture of these tribal communities today.