Celebrate Indigenous culture in Arizona by visiting one of these museums

By Robert Gundran

November 9, 2023

Indigenous peoples are a core part of American history. They were here long before settlers from Europe traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and settled in present-day North America.

To honor this history, the US designated November as Native American Heritage Month in 1990. In 2008, the US designated the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, which this year will be Nov. 24.

This month is a time to recognize and celebrate the traditions, languages, and stories of Indigenous peoples.

This year’s theme according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs is “Celebrating Tribal Sovereignty and Identity.”

Here are seven places across the state to visit to learn more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Arizona:

Heard Museum

2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Hours:
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
10 a.m.—4 p.m.
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Celebrate Indigenous culture in Arizona by visiting one of these museums

(Photo courtesy of the city of Phoenix)

The Heard Museum has been in Phoenix since 1929. It stands on lands once lived on by the Akimel O’otham people.

Two exhibits featuring art and artifacts from Indigenous Peoples will be at the museum through early 2024.

“Early Days: Indigenous Art from the McMichael” features Indigenous art from Canada and explores historic and contemporary art from across the country. The exhibit was organized by McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Ontario. It is on display at the museum until Jan. 2, 2024.

“Arriving Forever into the Present World” features work from the museum’s permanent collection—objects like textiles, pottery, and basketry. It shows the artistic traditions of people native to Southwest Indigenous cultures. It’s at the museum on display until March 3, 2024.

The Heard Museum also has other permanent galleries that showcase artwork from Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes.

S’edav Va’aki Museum

4619 E. Washington St. Phoenix
Hours:
9 a.m.—4:45 p.m Mondays through Saturdays
1 a.m.—4:45 p.m Sundays
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Formerly the Pueblo Grande Museum, it was renamed to S’edav Va’aki Museum in March 2023. The museum is on the original homeland of the O’Odham and Piipaash peoples and their ancestors.

S’edav Va’aki is a village and archaeological site that was settled roughly 1,500 years ago and was occupied for over 1,000 years, according to the city of Phoenix.

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board changed the name from Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park to S’edav Va’aki Museum in March.

City officials said the name change was an effort to honor the Indigenous people who built the community. The previous name did not reflect how the O’Odham described their villages.

S’edav Va’aki is a reference to the large platform mound that is preserved at the archaeological site. The new name uses the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community spelling to show the connection the site has with O’Odham and Piipaash communities.

The main exhibit inside the museum highlights the Hohokam and their descendants, the O’Odham.

The museum has two outdoor trails. One is two-thirds of a mile long and another is a half-mile. Visits can see replica houses, a demonstration garden, and a ball court. The outdoor features were built by Ancestral Sonoran Desert People in the Salt River Valley sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries.

Museum of Northern Arizona

3101 N. Fort Valley Road, Flagstaff
Hours:
Closed Tuesdays
10 a.m.—5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays
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The Museum of Northern Arizona features an exhibit that shows hundreds of items from 10 tribes that live and lived on the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau extends across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.

The exhibit looks at the histories, values, and cultures of the Acoma, Dilzhe’e Apache, Navajo, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Southern Paiute, Southern Ute, Yavapai, and Zuni peoples.

Items in the collection include weavings, pottery, silverwork, toys, and tools.

Check out their website for exhibit and private tours.

Explore Navajo Museum

10 Main St., Tuba City
Hours:
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
8 a.m.—5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays

The Explore Navajo Interactive Museum shows the journey Navajos take throughout their lives. It has four quadrants that explore the land, language, history, culture, and lives of Navajos.

It has a traditional Navajo home and stories of creation. Visitors will have an escort to help them understand the exhibits that show off Navajo culture, traditions, and family systems.

A Navajo code talker exhibit is in a building just a few dozen feet away from the museum. Code talkers were tasked with transmitting information on tactics and troop movements through their native language. It was faster than Morse code and gave the US a tactical advantage during the war.

The exhibit celebrates and explores how Navajos helped the Allied Forces defeat Imperial Japan during World War II.

Hopi Cultural Center

Highway 264, Milepost 379, Second Mesa
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The Hopi Reservation and Hopi Cultural Center are in northern Arizona. The cultural center has a motel open 363 days a year, a restaurant with authentic Hopi breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and an art gift shop.

Many pieces in the art shop are made by Hopi artists who have residencies in the area and are always making new pieces.

On a visit to the cultural center, you might encounter religious or cultural ceremonies. Some Kachina dances are open to the public, but recording is prohibited.

Guided tours of the mesas on the reservation are also available. Visitors are not allowed to travel off-road without a guide.

Ak-Chin Him-Dak Eco-Museum

47685 W. Eco-Museum Road, Maricopa
Hours:
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
10 a.m.—3 p.m Mondays through Fridays

The Ak-Chin Him-Dak Eco-Museum preserves and protects part of the Ak-Chin culture and heritage.

It serves to teach about the history of the tribe through crafts, exhibits, and photographs.

The museum hosts a Him-Dak (way of life) celebration in April and Native American Recognition Day celebration in September.

Arizona Museum of Natural History

53 N. Macdonald, Mesa
Hours:
Closed Mondays
10 a.m.—5 p.m Tuesdays through Saturdays
12 p.m.—5 p.m Sundays

The Arizona Museum of Natural History has plenty of exhibits that explore what Arizona was like in the past. They have archaeology, art, geology, paleontology, and natural history collections.

One of their collections features items from Apache, Navajo, O’odham, Hopi, and Hualapai tribes.

The museum also has a research library on the second floor that specializes in Southwest natural and cultural history. It’s open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

Their “Native Peoples of the Past” and “Native Cultures of Western North America” exhibits look into the history of the people who first settled the region, from the Paleoindian hunters who arrived around 13,500 years ago, to the Hohokam farmers who lived in the area until the 14th or 15th century.

READ MORE: 20 influential Indigenous Americans you may not know about

Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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