American Indian Etiquette
In the Great American West, our focus on the great states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota has always been centered on their natural beauty, their thriving tourism industries and the part each played in shaping American’s west into the diverse and vibrant enclave it is today. One central aspect of each state’s history and modern culture is the fascinating role American Indians played – and continue to play – in America’s West.
As a visitor to the Great American West Region, you have the opportunity to learn and experience firsthand how American Indian tribes continue to provide valuable economic and cultural contributions to the American Rockies region. As you begin to explore, however, it is very important to keep in mind that customs and American Indian laws should at all times be heeded in order to make this experience as productive and meaningful as possible for all parties. Below are several points that should be considered as you venture into American Indian territory:
- If you are witnessing a tribal ceremony, discretion is always the best route – at least initially. Always assume the role of “fly on the wall” spectator during a ritual, making certain to never get in the way of those conducting or participating in the ceremony. There are instances, or course, when outside participation is welcomed by the emcee, at which point you should feel free to volunteer and join in!
- Please refrain from touching or handling any of the feather or buckskin outfits of dancers or those in regalia, unless expressly invited to. These items often have ceremonial and personal meaning to the owner, and many of these outfits may be identified as family heirlooms.
- While photographs and video recording is a great way to capture the authentic beauty of American Indian customs and regalia, it is never a good idea to do so without first having express permission. Furthermore, certain rituals that require intense concentration from the participants (such as dance and drum ceremonies) can be disrupted by flash photography. Always use your best judgment and be certain to have permission before shooting or filming.
- Respect and obey all tribal laws. Tribes are sovereign nations on American soil and have jurisdictional rights.
- It is unlawful to harvest, gather or remove plants, medicines or trees from tribal grounds without express permission from a tribal representative.
- It is highly illegal to pick up or loot artifacts from sacred sites, burial, traditional and cultural properties. It is equally forbidden to trespass on any of these sites without proper escort.
- It can be construed as a sign of disrespect to openly discuss burials, burial sites, and those who have passed on.
- As a sign of deference (and a sign of common sense!) do not ever bring drugs or alcohol on any reservation or tribal territory. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden at all ceremonies, powwows and tribal events.
- Remember: When in doubt, ask first!
Part of the exceptional culture and history in The Great American West is firmly rooted in American Indian tradition. As you explore everything this region has to offer, simply keep in mind these few guidelines and respectfully enjoy all they have to offer!
United Tribes International Powwow
The Powwow is held annually in the Lone Star Arena at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota and has become one of the premier cultural events of North Dakota, receiving numerous awards over the years. Representing over 70 tribes, featuring over 1500 dancers and drummers, and drawing over 20,000 spectators the Powwow has become a must-see event!
Crazy Horse Memorial
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.”
These are the words Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1939 urging him to visit the Black Hills and carve a mountain sculpture honoring American Indians. Fifty-five years after Ziolkowski began carving Crazy Horse Memorial, his family continues the dream and work progresses on the world’s largest mountain sculpture. When finished, Crazy Horse will stand 641 feet long and 563 feet high.
See the sculpting live during your visit or attend one of the biannual night blasts, when spectacular ceremonial blasts light up the mountain with incredible fireballs and specially designed pyrotechnical features. Night blasts occur twice a year. The first blast takes place annually on June 26, a date that commemorates both the birthday of the late Mrs. Ruth Ziolkowski—wife of the late Crazy Horse sculptor—and the anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn, where Crazy Horse was a main strategist in the defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his troops. The second blast is on September 6th, the date of both Crazy Horse’s death in 1877 and the birth of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1908. Learn more
Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village
Discovered by a Dakota Wesleyan University student in 1910, the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is the only active archaeological site in South Dakota. Two students found rare 1,000-year-old bison bones in 2016. In 2017, students from South Dakota and England together uncovered an amazing cache of American Indian tools. The sheer amount of artifacts both found and undiscovered—the site is believed to be the home of 70 to 80 buried lodges—is one of the reasons why Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is considered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to be one of the most important archaeological sites in the Great Plains region.
Visitors to the site aren’t allowed to dig, but they can immerse themselves in Native American history by checking out the site for themselves inside the Archeodome, which encloses the dig site and houses exhibits and a laboratory. The nearby on-site museum features historical items recovered from the site as well as audio/visual exhibits and reproductions of an earthen lodge and a bison skeleton. Hands-on activities are available for kids of all ages. Visitors can dive even deeper into history during the village’s annual special events, including Archaeology Awareness Days and Lakota Games on Ice.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Once home to Mandan and Hidatsa peoples, and where Sakakawea was living when she met Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Learn more
On-A-Slant Indian Village
Earthlodge Village at New Town
Located near New Town, North Dakota, the Earthlodge Village is found at the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. Visitors can experience the village first-hand by camping in the earthlodges and teepees.
Tribes in South Dakota
As the ancestral home of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota tribes, South Dakota offers visitors an opportunity to experience authentic Native American culture. Travel the Native American Scenic Byway through the heart of the American Indian country. Visit the tribal lands of the state’s nine Indian tribes. View and purchase native arts and crafts at the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain, the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, the Narrows Historical Interpretive Area near the town of Lower Brule, the H.V. Johnston Lakota Cultural Center in Eagle Butte, or Prairie Edge in Rapid City.
Witness the pageantry of a Native American powwow at events like the Kenel Memorial Day Powwow, Sisseton Wahpeton Wacipi, Flandreau Santee Annual Traditional Powwow, Fort Randal Powwow in Lake Andes, Oglala National Powwow and Rodeo in Pine Ridge, Kul-Wicasa Oyate Fair, Rodeo and Powwow at the Lower Brule Fairgrounds, or the Crow Creek Dakota National Wacipi in Fort Thompson. The state’s biggest American Indian celebration is probably Rapid City’s annual Black Hills Powwow, which attracts native singers, dancers and drummers from across the American West every October.
Fort Berthold Reservation
The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes lived in earthlodges along the Missouri and Knife rivers. They banded together after diseases decimated villages. The reservation now straddles immense Lake Sakakawea with New Town the hub of activity. Sites to see include Crow Flies High Butte, yacht cruises at 4 Bears Casino and Lodge, Four Bears Bridge, Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, the Earth Lodge Village and Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway.
Standing Rock Reservation
Part of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation that once controlled a vast area from the James River in the Dakotas to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. When gold was discovered in 1874, the area was broken into six smaller reservations. Standing Rock was home to Sitting Bull and visitors can see his burial site and artifacts at Sitting Bull Visitors Center at Fort Yates and along the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway.
Spirit Lake Reservation
The people of Spirit Lake Nation near Devils Lake migrated from near Lake Superior to the Great Plains in the early 1800s. Visit Fort Totten State Historic Site, which once served as a fort and boarding school and now is a historic site and theater. Nearby Sullys Hill National Game Preserve has a bison herd and prairie dog town. All of this is adjacent to Devils Lake, which is one of top fisheries in the nation.
Turtle Mountain Reservation
The ancestors of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa migrated from the Great Lakes in the late 1400s to northern North Dakota. Drawn by the fur trade, they became middle men serving as trappers, voyagers, guides and caretakers of the land. Offspring of Chippewa or Cree and French Canadians are known as Métis. Known for their unique music, Métis celebrate annual at the Ryan Keplin Summerfest. Also check out the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway.
Lake Traverse Reservation
This Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation is primarily in South Dakota with only part stretching north into North Dakota near Hankinson. There you will find a unique 27-hole golf course called Dakota Winds.