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Dive Into U.S. Indigenous Culture by Visiting These Historic Museums

The Native American culture is an important part of North American history, but there's so much more that needs to be learned about our nation's indigenous peoples. According to the National Congress of American Indians, there are around 236 tribal museums in the U.S. that showcase Native American history through educational programs, guided tours, and much more. From contemporary art museums to historic sites, you can expect the best Native American museums in the U.S. to truly honor the American Indian culture by shedding light on the heritage of its Native peoples.

The Biggest Native American Museum

The largest Native American museum in the U.S. is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Since 1998, this 308,000-square foot facility has been telling the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation through exhibits, galleries, collections, interactive programs, and more. The building was constructed to help maintain the area's ecological integrity while allowing its structure to interact with the surrounding environment. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with admission prices ranging between $13-$22 based on how old you are. If you're a member, your admission is free with a valid ID.

The Largest Repository of Native American Literature

Located in the National Mall, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. houses the largest collection of Native American art and literature. Museum Director Kevin Gover says, "Our world-class collection covers cultures from North, Central, and South America and totals more than 800,000 items," within a calendar full of concerts, festivals, conferences, theater, and one-of-a-kind exhibitions featuring famous Native American artists including Fritz Scholder, George Morrison, Brian Jungen, and Allan Houser.

The George Gustav Heye Center in New York City is also a part of the NMAI and presents the world's largest collection of American Indian artifacts. Located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, the center holds the personal collection of wealthy investment banker George Gustav Heye, who aimed to make sure his collection was always available to the public. It includes Native American regalia including 10 headdresses from different tribes and the oldest duck decoys from Lovelock Cave, Nevada.

The Best Native American Museums in Oklahoma

Holding the second largest percentage of Native Americans in the U.S., Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized tribes. The state's name comes the Choctaw words "okla" and "humma" meaning "red people," so there's no doubt that there are plenty of incredible museums to explore in the area.

The Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah recreates an ancient Cherokee village and also features an exhibit that remembers the Trail of Tears. Many remember the Trail of Tears, which is now a National Historical Trail, back in the late 1830s from when the Cherokee people were forced from their homes on a brutal journey to reservations in Indian Territory.

The Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee preserves the culture of the Five Civilized Tribes, who consisted of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes. The building features galleries, shows, and tours that take visitors through the assimilation of these tribes, which is what the name "Five Civilized Tribes" refers to.

The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and helps visitors learn about all 39 collective histories of the first Native American histories in the state. Aiming to promote awareness and educate the general public about the unique and distinct cultures of the First American Nations in the state, the center presents exhibitions, outreach programs, and more. It's open from Wednesday to Monday, from 10:00am-5:00pm on weekdays and 11:00am to 5:00pm, with tickets ranging between $5-$15 depending on your age.

The Best Native American Museums in the Southwest

There's rich American Indian culture that lies in the Southwest of the U.S., especially within New Mexico and Arizona. While the region is inviting for many other tourist reasons, it also holds deep histories of the Native peoples that still reside there. Visitors will find all kinds of tributes from vendors selling Native crafts like silver and turquoise jewelry to the best museums that hold Native arts, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, and pottery.

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, explores the Pueblo culture in the state throughout its museum and exhibition galleries. Featuring a collection of murals by Pueblo artists, the center recognizes the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico—each is its own sovereign nation. The people have preserved their cultures and identities while facing colonization multiple times throughout history and now live in modern houses both on and off reservations.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is a world-class museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that highlights Native art and culture of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest. Showcasing collections that range from pre-history to contemporary art, the museum presents exhibitions, public lectures, field trips, artist residencies, and educational programs to serve their multicultural audience.

The Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico, was named after Millicent Rogers, the granddaughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers, one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company. When she settled in Taos, she became close with many founding members of the artist's colony and assembled a turquoise and silver jewelry collection throughout her life. Her son, Paul Peralta-Ramos, established the museum in her memory to honor the diverse Native cultures that call Northern New Mexico home.

The Heard Museum is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and is one of the city's first cultural attractions. It's grown to become on of the world's finest museums for learning more about America's indigenous cultures and is recognized internationally for its collections, exhibitions, educational programs, and festivals. The museum is known for collaborating with American Indian artists and tribal communities to give visitors an authentic presentation of the Native cultures that have resided in the Southwest since history began.

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READ MORE: These Native American Tours Pay Tribute to Indigenous U.S. Cultures