How to Identify Native American Lands While Traveling

Published on December 12th, 2021

The ability to travel the United States is an amazing thing. We have such a beautiful country with so many different landscapes, awesome attractions, and incredible animals. That said, it is important to recognize that, while everyone should feel welcome to enjoy this amazing land respectfully, much of it actually belongs to the Native Americans. 

No, this doesn’t mean you should stop exploring the country. In fact, it might mean just the opposite: that you should explore more intentionally. Instead of heading out on your next road trip with little knowledge of the area you’re about to enjoy, take the time to do some research, identify Native American lands, and learn about the people that once lived in the amazing places you are seeing. 

Monument Valley

Why Identify Native American Lands?

Are you curious why you should identify Native American lands before heading out on your nature adventures? That’s completely understandable. The number one reason for doing this is to show respect for the tribes and people that consider these places sacred. 

These people lived and worked on these lands for hundreds of years. In many cases, the places we like to visit most today are actually spiritually important places for Native Americans. The lands were not given up freely, but taken from the people that called them home for hundreds of years. 

Taking the time to recognize and fully appreciate these things helps you treat the lands with honor, gives you a better understanding of the importance of the ground you walk on, and shows respect for those who came before us in these magnificent places. 

How to Identify Native American Lands

Of course, you can’t very well identify Native American lands if you don’t know what tools to use. Since most of these lands are not clearly marked with signage, and since it’s better to do your research in advance of your trip anyway, we recommend turning to the internet.

There are several websites that can help get you started, and some of them can even help you get in touch with the elders of certain tribes so you can learn more. 

Native Land

Native Land is our top pick and the first place we turn to when researching Native American lands. Use the Native Land interactive website or app to access a crowd-sourced map of Native Lands around the world. This website also includes information on the various indigenous peoples, including information on their histories and cultures. 

Native Languages

The Native Languages site is also fairly helpful. This website offers a breakdown of Native American lands by state. It provides information on each tribe and even gives information on the language each tribe speaks. Additionally, the site provides users with contact information for tribal leaders.  

National Parks Site

The National Parks site has information on the Native American history of each of its parks. To find this information, go to the homepage of the park you want to learn about. Click on “Learn About the Park”, then “History & Culture”, then “Park History”, and finally “Historic Tribes”. While this site only covers the lands within the national parks, the information provided is interesting and helpful. 

Wikipedia

There is also the option of checking out Wikipedia. Wikipedia entries on many cities document some Native American history of the area. That said, you will want to be sure to cross-check what you find there with other sources, as Wikipedia is crowd-sourced and not always 100% accurate. 

Native American in traditional garb

Ways to Honor Native Lands and Pay Tribute to Native Tribes

Once you have a better understanding of the importance of Native American lands, you will likely wonder how you can honor these lands and pay tribute to the tribes who value them. The fact that you took the time to learn who the lands you are visiting belong to is a huge step in the right direction. To keep that momentum going, try implementing the ideas below. 

Care for the Land

The most obvious way to honor Native American land? Care for it, of course:

  • If you pack it in, pack it back out again.
  • Leave no trace.
  • Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Essentially, you should leave any natural area you visit looking better than it did when you got there. This goes for Native American lands, of course, but it truly should apply no matter where you happen to be. 

Learn about Those who Lived on the Land

We mentioned above that learning where the Native American lands are is a huge step in the right direction. Want to take that a bit farther? Go beyond just learning the names of the tribes that call a piece of land their own.

Learn about the history and culture of those people. Learn about the places that were sacred to them and what they did with the land on a day-to-day basis. This will help you connect with the land and the people the land belongs to. 

Support Native American Guides and Businesses

Sometimes when you are on Native American lands, you will notice the Native American community is still very active in the area. In this case, there will almost certainly be businesses run by Native American individuals. Help support these business owners while also getting a taste of the culture of the area by shopping in their stores, dining in their restaurants, and taking tours with their companies. 

Share Your Knowledge

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. It is even more wonderful when it’s shared with others. Share what you learn about an area with friends and family. You can do this by word-of-mouth, of course, but sharing on social media is often even more effective. Try using the tag #HonorNativeLand to draw attention to the movement and help educate others on the importance of identifying and honoring Native American lands. 

Donate to the Cause

Lastly, if this cause moves you, we highly recommend getting involved after your trip. Consider donating to organizations that support the ancestral community such as the American Indian College Fund, Native American Capital, the NDN Collective, Survival International, or the Forest People’s Programme

Native American tribes have suffered many injustices in the past. Let’s do what we can to help them rebuild and give them and their lands the honor and respect they deserve. You can start by identifying and learning about the Native American lands you will be visiting on your next RV adventure.

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