November Is Native American Heritage Month

Top National Parks to Commemorate American Indian Heritage

Wupatki Pueblo
••• An ancient pueblo at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. © Lauren Himiak

Did you know that the month of November was declared "National American Indian Heritage Month" in 1990? What started as an effort declare a day for the contributions made by the first Americans resulted in a whole month of recognition.

It all started with American Indian Day. One of the very proponents of such a day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY.

With his push, the Boy Scouts of America set aside a day for the "First Americans" and for three years the honor carried on. In 1915, a proclamation was approved during the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, KS to call upon the country to observe such a day. On Sept. 28, 1915, the second Saturday of each May was declared as an American Indian Day.

Over the years some states have disagreed on the specific day of recognition. While the second Saturday in May is common for most, the fourth Friday in September is common for other. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution which designated November "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations, including "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month" have been issued each year since 1994.

In honor of Native America Heritage Month, events are happening throughout the country, and national parks are playing a large role in the celebrations.

There are 71 national parks, monuments, historic sites, and trails whose history has deep roots in the American Indian culture. All deserve a visit, but if you're unsure where to begin, check out the following destinations to honor this important month.

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

In the 1100s, the landscape was densely populated but families lost their homes due to the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano.

As families needed to find other areas to grow crops, small scattered homes were replaced by a few large pueblos, each surrounded by smaller pueblos and pithouses. Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki, and other masonry pueblos began to emerge and trade networks expanded. Wupatki was an ideal meeting place for trade, conferences, prayer, and more. Although people moved on from Wupatki, the area was ever abandoned and to this day is remembered and cared for.

Plan your visit to Wupatki National Monument.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota

Want to visit an authentic Indian Village? At Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, visitors can step into a reconstructed earthlodge and truly imagine the life of traditional Indians. Highlights include viewing the artistry of everyday and ceremonial clothing, bags, and more. The park even has a garden that grows traditional crops including blue flint corn, Hidatsa red beans, and multi-headed Maximilian sunflower seeds.

Visitors can listen to memories of traditional Hidatsa Indian life, then walk to the Sakakawea Village site where depressions in the ground hint of life in a village, alive with games, ceremonies, and trade.

It's a memorable place to visit.

Navajo National Monument, Arizona

This national monument preserves three intact cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people.Four main groups once inhabited the area: Hopi, Zuni, San Juan Southern Paiute, and Navajo.

Descendants of the Hopi people actually built these dwellings and are called Hisatsinom. Several of the Zuni clans, who also built pueblos, began in this area. Later, San Juan Southern Paiute moved into the area and lived near the cliff dwellings. They were famous for their baskets. Today, this place is surrounded by the Navajo Nation, as it has been for hundreds of years.

Visitors can enjoy an educational visitor center, museum, three short self-guided trails, two small campgrounds, and a picnic area. Learn more about the Navajo National Monument.

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee

This historic trail commemorates the removal of the Cherokee Indian people from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. They were forced out by the federal government and the trail highlights the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed westward in the winter of 1838-39. An estimated one-fourth of their population died on the way to "Indian Territory" - which today is known as Oklahoma.

Today, the Trail of Tears National Historic Site encompasses about 2,200 miles of land and water routes and covers portions of nine states.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

Located in the northeast Iowa, this national monument was established October 25, 1949. It preserves 200 prehistoric American Indian mound sites built along the Mississippi River between 450 BC and AD 1300, including 26 effigy mounds in the shapes of birds and bears. The mounds showcase a significant phase of mound-building culture that's truly amazing to see.

Fewer than ten percent of the estimated 10,000 mounds originally found in northeast Iowa still exist.

Today, 191 mounds are preserved within the monument, 29 of which are animal-shaped mounds. Effigy Mounds National Monument gives visitors an opportunity to learn about an interesting prehistoric culture that lived in harmony with the natural world.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

This national park was established in 1906 to preserve the stunning archaeological remnants of the thousand-year-old culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. About 1400 years ago, people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde - which is Spanish for "green table" - for their home. For more than 700 years, descendants lived here, building elaborate stone villages in the alcoves of the canyon walls.

Visitors can tour three cliff dwellings, view petroglyphs, hike on beautiful trails, and enjoy guided tours of archaeological sites.The visitor center also displays contemporary Native American arts and crafts.

Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska

Established in 1910, Alaska's oldest federally designated park commemorates the 1804 Battle of Sitka - the last major Tlingit Indian resistance to Russian colonization. What remains now is the site of the Tlingit Fort and battlefield, located within this 113-acre park.

A combination of Northwest Coast totem poles and temperate rain forest are combined on the scenic coastal trail within the park. In 1905, Alaska's District Governor John G. Brady brought a collection of totem poles to Sitka. Histories carved in cedar were donated by Native leaders from villages in southeast Alaska.

Besides the stunning outdoor environments, visitors can learn about traditional culture and art, enjoy kid-friendly activities, listen to interpretive talks, and take guided tours.

Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia

The relationship between people and natural resources is highlighted at this national monument. In fact, it's a preservation of the record of human life in the Southeast for more than 12,000 years.

Between 900-1150, an elite society of farmers lived on this site near the Ocmulgee River. They constructed a town of rectangular wooden buildings and mounds. Also created were circular earth lodges which served as places to conduct meetings and ceremonies. These mounds are still visible today.

Other activities for visitors include ranger-led field trips, bicycle rides, nature walks, and shopping in the Ocmulgee National Monument Association's Museum Shop. Sound fun? Plan your trip now!