The story of the West is the tale of more than one people, and no visit to The Great American West would be complete without experiencing the culture and heritage of America’s native tribes.
To witness the power of a powwow or wacipi (Dakota, Lakota and Nakota for “dance” and pronounced wa-CHEE-pee) is to be part of a powerful tradition that existed long before white settlers set foot on this soil. It’s a social event where dancers don regalia that includes colorful finery, elaborate featherwork, and intricate beadwork as they perform dances that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Different tribes host powwows throughout the year, but the Black Hills Powwow—held annually in Rapid City—may be the biggest, drawing thousands of dancers and visitors every year. No matter which powwow you attend, you’ll feel the energy as dancers move gracefully to the rhythm provided by traditional drummers and singers. Should the spirits move you, the opportunity to join in the dancing will sometimes appear in the form of an intertribal dance. You can also delve deeper into the culture with foods like Indian tacos, fry bread, and a fruit sauce/ jam called wojapi (pronounced wo-zha-pee). Learn more on South Dakota powwows and proper visitor etiquette
Once home to more than a dozen Indian tribes, Wyoming today counts among its residents more than 11,000 Shoshone and Arapaho Indians who live on the Wind River Reservation. Located southeast of Jackson, the 2.2 million-acre reservation is the site of festive Indian powwows each summer. The Plains Indian Museum also holds an annual powwow in the Robbie Powwow Garden at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody. Wyoming is home to numerous sites held sacred by Native Americans, including Devils Tower (also known as Bears Lodge) and the intriguing Medicine Wheel National Historic Site. Located in Bighorn National Forest near Lovell, the ancient stone circle with interior “spokes” has been likened to Stonehenge, and is believed to have been constructed by Indian tribes for religious or astrological purposes between 1200 and 1700 AD. Today, the site is used by Native Americans for religious ceremonies, and is open to the public from June to September.
Montana makes it easy for history buffs to experience a taste of what life in the untamed West was like hundreds and even thousands of years ago. In particular, the state’s Native American heritage is well preserved. The ancestral lands of the Blackfeet Indians, Montana is home to seven Indian reservations and 11 tribes whose powwows and other tribal events are not to be missed. Visit the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning – site of the annual North American Indian Days summer festival – or immerse yourself in the traditions of the Salish and Kootenai tribes on the nearby Flathead Indian Reservation. Witness what’s believed to be the largest modern-day encampment in the world. at the annual week-long Crow Fair and Rodeo, a celebration of the Apsáalooke Nation held each August in Crow Agency.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of what is now North Dakota and today their colorful history is on full display at powwows, earthlodge villages and through tours by NativeWays.
North Dakota’s individual tribes have distinct and different origins, histories and languages. Plains tribes are united by core beliefs and values that emanate from respect for the earth and an understanding of humankind’s relationship with nature.
Visit each of North Dakota’s five reservations, talk to the people and visit historically important sites to learn more about the culture of each tribe.
Home to the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Paiute and Shoshone-Bannock tribes, Idaho has a storied indigenous culture. Opportunities to experience and connect with the traditional customs and stories of Native American tribes exist throughout the state. Catch the sights and sounds of special ceremonies during summer celebrations, including the Shoshone-Bannock Festival Powwow and the Coeur d’Alene Julyamsh Powwow. Visit the Spaulding site at the Nez Perce National Historical Park to discover the legends of the Nez Perce culture. Travel the Sacajawea Historic Byway for a history-filled detour, including a stop at the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Education Center to observe exhibits and artifacts focused on the infamous Shoshone woman who helped guide the Lewis & Clark expedition.