By Kristy Alpert
Native America tribes have peppered this country with their historic cultures and rich heritages throughout the centuries. The challenge has always been to find ways to celebrate that history in ways that pay tribute to those ancient cultures and civilizations while also providing experiences that authentically depict what life was like many years ago.
Native American cultural centers and museums across the country have found the answer to showcasing Native American flavor by offering groups the chance to immerse themselves in the many cultures that have seasoned many states so well over the years. From interactive displays to life-sized replicates of full villages, here are a few of the top cultural centers and museums that offer valuable Native American experiences.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Presenting a vast history that ranges from A.D. 1200 to the present day, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center offers groups an introduction to the art, history, food and dance of the 19 pueblos of New Mexico. Along with offering constantly changing exhibitions and art markets, the center also conducts cultural education programs throughout the year and acts as a venue for performing arts, giving groups the chance to enjoy live Native American musicians, acting troupes and more.
“For 37 years, each weekend [rain or shine], we have traditional Native American dance performances here where the visitor can experience up close the regalia, drums, dance and song of not only the 19 pueblos of New Mexico but from other tribes as well,” said Tazbah McCullah, marketing director for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “In terms of tourism in this area, the Native American history is one of the top reasons that visitors come to New Mexico, and the direct influence of the first people of these lands is instilled in the center’s art, architecture, roadways, food, landscape and lifestyle, called Native New Mexico.”
The center’s restaurant, the Pueblo Harvest Café and Bakery, serves Native fusion cuisine daily, and the gift shop is stocked with a wide array of authentic Native American jewelry, rugs, pottery, sculptures and more. For a nominal booking price, groups can get unlimited pizza baked in the center’s traditional “horno” oven, unobstructed views of the beautiful Sandia Mountains, great libations and fantastic music performed by myriad local bands that will get the whole group on the dance floor.
Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center
Chamberlain, South Dakota
Located on the campus of the St. Joseph Indian School, the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center serves as an outreach program of the school by providing tourists and groups the chance to enter the historical and present-day world of the Northern Plains Indians. The museum boasts 14,000 square feet of display space, with recently renovated exhibits lining the octagon-shaped layout of the building. Color-coded timeline banners keep visitors aware of what point in history they are studying.
“The facility is more than a traditional museum because it tells the significant story of the lives of the Northern Plains Indian people: their culture, values, traditions and history,” said director Dixie Thompson, a 15-year veteran of the museum. “Our museum has probably one of the most amazing collections of Native American art in South Dakota, and it includes contemporary art pieces, paintings, sculptures, and it really gives you a broad look, through the Native American culture, through the most renowned Native American artists, through the nation.”
Along with interactive displays throughout the building, the center also has a theater and a collectors gallery that provides local Native American artists an outlet to display and sell their work.
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