10 Ways to Experience Native American History (Please!)

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune

I’ve heard people say things like, “I love going to Europe because there’s so much history there. America just doesn’t have that history. Our history didn’t start until the 1700s.”
Every time I hear a statement like that, I cringe. That Eurocentric idea of history implies that no human civilization existed on the continent before the American Revolution, which couldn’t be further from the truth. North America is rich in history. You just need to know where to look.

About 1,000 years ago, while Europeans were still learning to read in the Dark Ages, North American civilizations thrived. The capital city of the Aztec Empire in modern-day Mexico had a higher population than any city in Europe. The artwork produced by Mayan sculptors rivals those of ancient Egypt. And the philosophies and settlements of ancient Pacific Northwest cultures continue to this day.

During their conquest of the American continents, European colonists committed genocide when decimating thousands of unique, thriving Native American cultures with brutal force and terrible disease. So, here are a few simple ways in which you can investigate rich Native American history in order to appreciate the cultures that European colonists all but exterminated.

1. Mesa Verde (Colorado)
The fact that the Puebloan culture built cities on the side of sheer cliffs and used rock-climbing foot holes as highways between the towns is astonishing enough. Here’s the real kicker: they did this in the 1100s, while Europeans were still building houses out of thatch and dying from the Black Plague.

2. Longhouse Potlatch (Pacific Northwest)
The true spirit of community is still exemplified in the Pacific Northwest potlatch, where everyone brings food dishes to share. This aspect of Tillamook and Chinook culture has integrated into our modern American society, though little credit is given to the Founding Fathers of the tradition.

3. Seminole Territory (Everglades, Florida)
Explore the seemingly impenetrable Everglades and gain an appreciation for the way in which the Seminole culture thrived there. After the U.S. government had exterminated most of the East Coast’s Native American populate under Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal Act”, the Seminoles sat in their Everglades fortresses and laughed as European invades tried time after time to colonize.

4. Aztec Ruins (New Mexico)
The Aztec Empire stretched over an area of land that was roughly the size of Europe. Visit its northern borders in modern-day New Mexico, where ruins of a once-colossal civilization still stand.

5. Little Bighorn (Montana)
Visit the site where Lt. Col. George Custer massacred hundreds of Sioux, Lakota, and Cheyenne women and children, followed by a battle in which the Sitting Bull’s army killed the U.S. military leader. The revamped memorial pays tribute to Plains Native American ways of life and allows visitors to gain insight into the philosophies of leaders like Sitting Bull.

6. Walk the Trail of Tears (Tennessee to Oklahoma)
In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson issued the “Indian Removal Acts” and forced around 125,000 Native Americans (mostly Cherokee) to walk from the American South to Oklahoma. Thousands died on the journey, hence the name of the trail. Walk the trail yourself and experience the atrocities that the U.S. government imposed on a peaceful society.

7. Navajo Territory (Four Corners)
Navajo Territory spans parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, culminating in the Four Corners. Drive through the Territory and explore Navajo treasures while glimpsing the modern-day lifestyle that Native Americans have been forced to live since the reservation system was imposed upon them.

8. Mayan Ruins (Yucatan, Mexico)
Take a trip to Cancun and drive two hours into the jungle. Here, you’ll find some of the greatest ruins ever found. The sophistication of the 1,000 year old ruins suggests that Mayan culture far surpassed its European counterparts.

9. Tenochtitlan (Mexico City)
Modern-day Mexico City is built on the shoulders of giants. Literally. Underneath Mexico City’s infrastructure sits the ruins of a city that once contained over one million citizens. Check it out!

10. Plymouth Rock (Massachusetts)
When visiting Plymouth Rock, U.S. tourists often think about the Mayflower, but there’s a more important story here: cultural exchange. The English colonists likely wouldn’t have survived the winter in Massachusetts had it not been for the kindness and knowledge of Northeastern Native American cultures. Appreciate this as you look at the small, symbolic rock.

There are thousands of sites across the North American continent that exemplify the cultural diversity and sophistication of pre-colonization Native Americans. Experience as many as you can in order to appreciate the true history of North America.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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