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What Are Some Cultural Considerations When Traveling to Indigenous Areas?

Visiting native lands and reservations can be a culturally eye-opening and enriching experience. One of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken was to the Seminole Reservation in South Florida, the only tribe that didn’t sign the United States Peace Treaty. Learning about—and from—indigenous people in your area is one of the most important things you can do, but it’s important to do so in a respectful way.

This is a reminder that the United States was built on indigenous land and the original colonies pushed native people off of their land. For more information, go to Native Land Digital.

Before you even go to an indigenous area, it’s a good idea to research whether or not the reservation wants tourists to visit. If you cannot find information about this online, call the visitor’s center or tribal office. Many Indian Reservations in the U.S. welcome visitors, and there are often a variety of cultural artifacts, replicas, performances, and educational lectures that you can attend when you go.

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Image by Zak Bennett/Contributor

When you are on a reservation, you must follow state and tribal laws. On a recent trip to Arizona, my group and I hiked Lower Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation, and they had signs posted about following reservation laws. According to a 2021 article from NPR, tribal police can detain non-natives under suspicion of committing crimes on reservations. 

When you visit a reservation,  it’s a great idea to stop at the visitor’s center as soon as you get there. Someone will be able to direct you and give you a summary of tourism opportunities that are available. Be aware that some activities may require advance booking. For instance, touring Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona requires a reservation, while walking the boardwalk at the Seminole Village in Florida does not.

As a general rule of thumb, remember to be respectful when you are visiting native reservations, just like you are in any other place in nature. Make sure to follow any rules you are informed about from the beginning. A little bit of research before you leave goes a long way.

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