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Arizona Native American experiences

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Hopi village of Oraibi is America’s oldest Native American settlement, dating to 1100.
  • The 290-foot-tall Rainbow Bridge, on the Navajo Nation reservation, is the world’s largest known natural bridge.
  • Canals built by the Hohokam people, adopted by white men in the 1860s, led to the founding of Phoenix.
  • The Navajo Nation is America’s largest Indian tribe, with around 300,000 members.
  • American Indians gained U.S. citizenship and the right to vote nationally in 1924.

Monumental natural landscapes

Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized Indian tribes whose members, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, account for 5.3% of the state’s population (around 350,000) whereas their reservations occupy more than a quarter of the state’s land, more than in any other state. In other words, the Native American culture and/or reservations can be big factors in any Arizona holiday outside the cities.

Besides, there are options for meaningful contact in Phoenix and its environs, starting with the Heard Museum, and extending to in-town arts and crafts fairs, cultural events and archaeological sites. Further, four Indian reservations are so close to the capital they could be called suburbs. The Heard Museum’s exhibits and events emphasize the arts and culture of historical and living native peoples in the Southwest. Additional resources are available in museums and culture centers throughout the state.

Lovers of arts and crafts come to shop. At Indian markets and fairs, they can buy directly from the artists. The various cultures reveal themselves as well in a variety of ceremonies and powwows, many of which are open to the public. They generally involve music and dancing, food and a variety of contests, sometimes including rodeos.

A number of reservations host upscale resort gaming facilities, which may include fining dining, golf, horseback riding, spas, swimming pools and tennis.

The landscape and wildlife are additional lures to the reservations. Indian lands encompass lakes, rivers, mountains, buttes and mesas, spaces where visitors can fish and hunt, paddle a canoe, get on jet skis, take to skis and snowboards in winter.

These lands include some of America’s most dramatically beautiful settings — such as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park; Canyon de Chelly National Monument; Havasu Falls; Lake Powell and more. In addition, two reservations abut the Grand Canyon National Park. Archaeological sites include ancient pueblo ruins and abandoned cliff dwellings. A number of Arizona’s top designated scenic drives pass through or touch on the Indian reservations.

Each of the Indian tribes determines when ceremonies and other events are open to the public, and each has its own rules regarding photo permits, fishing and hunting licenses, and more.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Make a trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Havasupai Indian Reservation to be awed by the reservation’s five much-photographed waterfalls accessible only on foot, on horseback or by helicopter. Camp overnight just beyond the village of Supai. (Camping bookings must be made in advance.)
  • In February, walk with the Yavapai-Apache Nation on its Exodus Commemoration/Return Day, commemorating the forced removal of the two tribes from the Verde Valley in 1875 and their return in 1900. Then, enjoy cultural dances and locally made arts and crafts.
  • Hop on a snowboard at the Sunrise Park Resort, owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache tribe. Snowmobiling and ice fishing are options at the reservation, too.
  • Seek out the beauty spots, like the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Ride horseback through the 26-mile red stone canyon with its sheer cliffs ranging from 30 to more than 1,000 feet high. Now the site of modern Navajo homes and farms, it also has hundreds of pueblo ruins dating from 350 A.D. to 1300 A.D.
  • Go hunting. Quarry ranges from birds to elk. Several reservations offer the option with appropriate licenses.
  • Use the Navajo Nation’s Lake Powell shoreline for your access to this playground. Race across the waters by jet skiing or aboard a speedboat. Slow down on a rented houseboat and fish at leisure.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sample traditional foods. Try the blue-corn pancakes, or the popular frybread.
  • Attend a rodeo, such as the Navajo Nation Fair Rodeo in Window Rock or the Orme Dam Victory Days Rodeo at Fort McDowell.
  • Choose a powwow for the dancing, which is sometimes competitive. For one, the Sounds of Thunder Mountain Heritage Day Celebration, in August, on the Kaibab-Paiute Reservation is a competition powwow; it also includes a traditional Paiute hand-drum song contest.
  • Or, choose events for the broader Indian culture. Example: The Cocopah tribe hosts the Cocopah Cultural Celebration, which includes bird singers and a shinney (similar to field hockey) exhibition game. Or, the San Carlos Apache tribe’s Apache Independence Day includes a wikieup (Indian hut) building contest, Apache card games and food contests.
  • Come to the San Carlos Apache Reservation for fishing its several lakes, ponds and rivers. Or, give whitewater rafting a try on the Salt River here.
  • Carry a camera to capture the phenomenal scenes of a valley and its mesas, buttes and narrow rock pinnacles standing 400 to 1,000 feet tall — all in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Follow the 17-mile scenic drive here or take a Navajo-guided tour.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Stay at one of the on-reservation luxury resorts, for the spas, golf and other services, plus access to dramatic landscapes and unique cultural experiences.
  • Visit the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Be involved with its hands-on activities such as weaving with beads and basket making.
  • Try your luck at one or more Indian-owned casinos.
  • Shop at the Hopi Katsina Doll Marketplace staged each spring in Phoenix. Look at other arts and crafts fairs, too.
  • Look back in places like the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, located in a 1,500-year-old Hohokam village ruin in Phoenix. The park includes full-scale reproductions of Hohokam homes. The Hohokam people had abandoned the Phoenix area before Europeans arrived.
  • Attend Scottsdale’s Native Trails, a free outdoor festival featuring Native American song and dance on select winter dates. Native Trails also features Indian artisans selling baskets, flutes, jewelry and paintings.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Arizona Office of Tourism at www.visitarizona.com