November marks National Native American Heritage Month, and Colorado honors its earliest inhabitants through cultural experiences throughout the year. Following is a sampling of sites, exhibits and museums as well as events and tours that pay tribute to and celebrate the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans in the state.
Sites, Exhibits and Museums:
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Dolores: Covering 176,000 acres, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a rugged and breathtaking landscape containing the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States. 6,000 ancient sites, some visible to the eye, dot the landscape, including cliff dwellings, villages and rock art. Plus, the monument is just 10 miles from the heart of Cortez. The outdoor site contains miles of trails ideal for hiking, mountain biking and by horseback.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez: Stories of the Native American experience, including the Pueblo people, often is told in the past tense. At the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, however, visitors experience a broader understanding of Ancestral Puebloan culture and modern culture through immersive workshops, tours and travel opportunities. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is a 170-acre research facility and living classroom offering hands-on archaeology programs.
Cultural Traditions of The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ignacio: The Southern Ute Indian Tribe located on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Southwest Colorado, has a rich cultural tradition and holds several events throughout the year to keep these traditions alive. The Southern Ute Museum and Cultural Center, owned and operated by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe provides information about the Southern Ute Indian Tribe culture, history and traditions. The Sky Ute Casino Resort is the perfect place from which to explore the endless recreational options on the reservation and the surrounding areas.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science North American Indian Cultures Exhibit Hall, Denver: As visitors travel through the various regions in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's eye-opening North American Indian Cultures exhibit hall, they'll explore authentic reconstructed dwellings, including an Eskimo snow house, a Northwest Coast clan house, a Navajo hogan and a Cheyenne tipi. Along the way, visitors can examine beautifully crafted weavings, basketry, beadwork and pottery.
Hovenweep National Monument, Cortez: Hovenweep, a Ute Indian word meaning “deserted valley,” was once home to over 2,500 people. Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. A variety of structures include multi-story towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. Unique square, oval, circular and D-shaped towers display incredible attention to detail and will leave visitors marveling at the skill and motivation of the builders.
Mesa Verde National Park: Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.
Native American Trading Company, Denver: For more than 25 years, the Native American Trading Company has offered high quality affordable and authentic handmade American Indian art. Every piece is individually selected by owners Jack Lima and Robin Lima Riddel, who frequently make trips to reservations, pueblos and the homes of the artists in search of the finest pieces, including antique weavings, pottery, baskets, jewelry, artifacts and photographs. Located just across the street from the Denver Art Museum, Native American Trading Company is a must-visit gallery.
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Eads: Visit the Site of The Sand Creek Massacre: profound, symbolic, spiritual, controversial, a site unlike any other in America. As 675 cavalrymen came around a prairie bend, the camps of Chiefs Black Kettle, White Antelope, and Left Hand lay in the valley before them. Chaotic, horrific, tumultuous and bloody, the events of November 29, 1864 changed the course of history. Interpretive programs are offered daily. There is also a 173-mile Annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk in late November.
Temple Canyon Park, Cañon City: Discover Native American wonders at Temple Canyon Park. In 1881, workmen for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad discovered a hidden side canyon along Grape Creek that led to a large natural amphitheater. Dubbed ‘The Temple’, the site (along with hundreds of surrounding acres) was acquired as a city park in 1912. This stunning location may have been used by the Ute Indian Tribe as a ceremony site. It is also said there are Ute burial grounds along Grape Creek through Temple Canyon. The Ute Trail, as it is known today, was at one time used by the American Indians in their excursion to and from the plains country.
Tesoro Cultural Center, Morrison: From art and cuisine to historical re-enactments and music, the Tesoro Cultural Center’s mission is to create enriched, community-based events and educational outreach programs designed to preserve and celebrate Colorado’s cultural heritage. Tesoro Cultural Center is proud to offer several approved curriculums for public schools, including a program titled “The American Indian Tribes of Colorado.”
Ute Council Tree, Delta: Once a 200-plus-year-old cottonwood where it's been claimed that Chief Ouray, his wife Chipeta and Ouray’s braves met with white settlers to smoke the pipe of peace and settle their differences, what remains of the Ute Council Tree is a 23-foot stump. Chipeta was said to have been the only American Indian woman ever permitted to sit in council meetings. The site, still considered a cultural landmark.
The Ute Indian Museum, Montrose: The Ute Indian Museum celebrates the history and the living culture of Colorado's longest continuous residents. The museum welcomes visitors with a stunning building and exhibition connecting the past with contemporary Ute life and culture. Exhibitions focus on the Ute peoples' history of adaptation and persistence, and unfold around a central theme of geography, highlighting significant locations in Ute history and Ute cultural survival, political self-determination, economic opportunity and the celebration of the Bear Dance.
Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park, Towaoc: The Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park offers an in-depth experience not to be missed. Tribal members interpret tribal culture, pictographs, cliff dwellings, surface ruins and artifacts. It has been selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of “80 World Destinations for Travel in the 21st Century,” one of only nine places in the United States to receive this special designation. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25-mile stretch of the Mancos River, and is located in the Mesa Verde/Mancos Canyon area just outside the boundaries of the National Park.
The White River Museum, Meeker: The White River Museum is housed in two of the log buildings from the 1880′s that served as officer’s quarters of the federal troops stationed in Meeker, as a result of the Meeker Massacre in 1879 and the infamous Milk Creek Battle, the last Indian Tribe/U.S.Army battle in America. Named “one of the last curio museums in Colorado” by the State Historical Society, it is filled with collections ranging from the 1880’s to the 1950’s, including many Ute Indian exhibits.
Written on the Land: Ute Voices, Ute History at the History Colorado Center, Denver: Hear the story of Colorado’s longest continuous residents, told in their own voices in the exhibit, “Written on the Land: Ute Voices, Ute History” at the History Colorado Center. Take a journey to iconic Colorado places the Ute people call home. Visitors can see traditional arts, gorgeous photography and contemporary video showing how Ute people have adapted and persevered through the centuries. The exhibit showcases the tragic loss of Ute homelands and efforts to keep Ute culture and language alive today.
Yampah Vapor Caves, Glenwood Springs: Glenwood Springs’ Yampah Vapor Caves, the only known natural vapor caves in North America, were originally inhabited by the Ute Native Americans who visited the caves for centuries regarding them as a sacred place of healing, curative powers and rejuvenation. In fact, Yampah translates into “Big Medicine” in the Ute language. Visitors still enjoy “Big Medicine” from the Yampah Vapor Caves, which are blessed by Utes every year. Members of the Ute Tribe also hold monthly traditional sweats in the caves in an effort to keep the traditions alive.
Events and Tours:
Shining Mountains Film Festival, Aspen - October 13-14, 2019: Shining Mountains Film Festival is a documentary film festival focused on fostering Native American and indigenous peoples storytelling through film and live events in a way that supports and engages indigenous media arts; authentically captures national and international indigenous voices; highlights the work of indigenous filmmakers and performers for diverse audiences; and breaks barriers of racism by replacing stereotypes with credible representations of Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and community.
39th Annual Colorado Indian Market & Southwest Art Fest, Denver - January 17-19, 2020: This colorful celebration of Native American, Southwestern and Western arts features 200 top quality juried artists and craftsmen alongside tribal dances, award winning entertainers, artists demonstrations, culinary booths and interactive special attractions.
Denver March Powow, Denver - March 2020: Since 1984, the heritage of American Indians has been celebrated in Denver every March at the Denver March Powwow, one of the largest events of its kind in the country. A welcoming glimpse into Native American culture, more than 1,600 dancers from close to 100 tribes from 38 states and three Canadian provinces come to the three-day event, filling the Denver Coliseum with singing, dancing, storytelling, food and art.
20th Annual American Indian Market & Powwow at The Fort, Morrison - June 6-7, 2020: Each year, The Tesoro Cultural Center hosts a public event celebrating American Indian art, culture and dance, known as the American Indian Market & Powwow. Events include Colorado’s largest authentic and juried American Indian art show, featuring nationally acclaimed artists in a variety of mediums, and a two-day contest Powwow with participation from more than 40 American Indian Nations.
The Huajatolla Heritage Festival, La Veta - June 2020: Each June, people come to honor Hispano and Native American cultures through music, art, food, dance, education and more in the shadows of the beautiful Spanish Peaks (The Huajatollas or Wahatoyas). The Huajatolla Heritage Festival is hosted by the Huajatolla Heritage Foundation, a grassroots organization of artists, visionaries, educators, and community leaders in La Veta who strive to preserve rich Colorado heritage through exploration and sharing of culture, language, art and spiritual beliefs.
Native American Living History Week at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland – July 19-25, 2020: Gray Wolf transforms part of the ranch into an authentic, historically accurate Cheyenne camp from the mid-1800s, complete with tipis, buffalo hides, tomahawks, saddles, rifles, buckskin and rawhide, old-time beadwork and much more. Guests will learn about tomahawk and knife throwing, arrow making, fire making, Native American sign language, wild edibles and the Great Plains culture.
9th Annual Saguache Community Powwow, Saguache - August 2020: A small but devoted group of participants gathers in late August each year for an intertribal celebration that has successfully revived a powwow tradition dating back more than two decades. Visitors are invited to enjoy dancing, music, food and festivities in this small town located at the north edge of the beautiful San Luis Valley.
Colorado Detours: Colorado's Oldest Inhabitants, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area - Ongoing: Join Colorado Detours on a hike into deep human time that challenges the imagination. Dr. Dave Noe, geologist, takes visitors on an overland van ride into the desert-like Adobe Hills. Once there, he guides visitors to many wonders: petroglyphs, an archaeological dig, a dinosaur trackway and more.
Indigenous Roots LLC, Weston - Ongoing: Indigenous Roots offers an authentic living history immersion experience that includes educational offerings on history, human geography, sustainability and cultural anthropology from a Native American perspective. Participants live in a tipi village near the historic Santa Fe Trail for a four-day, three-night program learning through firsthand experience and deepening understanding of traditional Native American culture.
Tour Estes Park Driving Tour, Estes Park - Ongoing: Tour Estes Park offers a driving tour focused on the native, or first people, of Estes Park. During this tour they visit several sites in the Estes Valley and share the amazing stories of specific people and their cultures. They also offer a one-hour slide presentation of first people of Colorado and the Estes Valley.