The Indigenous populations of America share a rich and detailed history–one you can explore through carefully maintained artifacts and unique exhibits at many of our nation’s museums.
From the Seminole people of the Everglades to the First Americans of Oklahoma, here are ten must-visit museums in the United States preserving Indigenous American heritage.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki (Clewiston, FL)
Tucked away in the swamplands of the Big Cypress Reservation, Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum honors the history and traditions of the Seminole people through temporary and permanent exhibitions. See over 200,000 artifacts, from jewelry and clothing to ancient tools. Check out dioramas depicting scenes from life in the 1890s, such as a Seminole silversmith hard at work or three women cooking the daily meal over a roaring fire. Outside, walk the boardwalk under a canopy of cypress trees, where you’ll encounter recreations of Ceremonial Grounds, a Seminole Village and a Hunting Camp.
First Americans Museum (Oklahoma City, OK)
At this state-of-the-art museum in Oklahoma City, you’ll discover the collective histories of Oklahoma’s 39 tribes, from the Apache to the Tonkawa. Explore the Tribal Nations Gallery, where the exhibit “OKLA HOMMA” shares the highs and lows of the tribe’s past and present and how they came to the state. Check out traditional clothing and materials at the “Winiko: Life of an Object” exhibit, showcasing pieces from the Smithsonian. For an up-close look at a 90-foot Indigenous Mound, enjoy an interpretive walk on the grounds. The museum also features year-round demonstrations, a theater for live performances and an on-site restaurant where you can dine on tribe-inspired cuisine with a modern twist, such as hominy stew with braised bison.
National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC)
Part of the renowned Smithsonian Institution, you don’t want to miss the colossal collection of artifacts at the National Museum of the American Indian. Stop by the American Gallery, which examines the representation of Indigenous peoples in America throughout history (good and bad), from thought-provoking art to ads, photographs, postcards and relics from pop culture. Don’t miss the “Return to a Native Place” exhibition, which highlights the history and struggles of Chesapeake Bay’s Algonquian people through maps, ceremonial objects and photographs.
The Heard Museum (Phoenix, AZ)
Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, celebrates the beauty and history of Indigenous American art. Located in the Akimel O’otham tribe’s homeland, the museum offers free guided tours, 12 galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens and an on-site café. Learn about the Native people of the Southwest in the “HOME” exhibition, which features a Navajo hogan (traditional hut) and 400 katsina dolls (wooden effigies of benevolent spirits). Experience the trials and tribulations of Native American boarding schools in America via the “Away from Home” exhibit. And marvel at bronze and stone sculptures by Indigenous American sculptors like Allan Houser.
Museum of Native American History (Bentonville, AR)
In Bentonville, check out the free Museum of Native American History. Journey through 24,000 years of history via collections that span five different periods, from the Paleo Age to Pre-Columbian. Notable relics include a pictograph calendar spanning 70 years of tribal history and ancient wonders like mammoth skeletons and Mayan gold. In the Woodlands exhibit, learn about Mound Builders and check out artifacts such as woodland pipes, ceremonial bowls and ancient tribal weapons like darts. Stop by the museum store to purchase Indigenous American jewelry, seed pots, art and collectibles.
Dickson Mounds Museum (Lewistown, IL)
Explore the lives and histories of the Illinois River Valley Indigenous People at the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown. This expansive archaeological museum is home to your typical exhibits and artifacts and expansive grounds that feature walking trails, a restored prairie and the remains of an excavated Indian village. Explore the River Valley Gallery and learn about the people and wildlife that lived in the region. Wander through the People of the Valley exhibit and see photographs, murals and artifacts like hunting tools of people who lived during the Ice Age. The museum is also home to the Discovery Center, where kids can interact with unique playscapes and activity drawers to learn more about Illinois’ Indigenous Americans.
Iroquois Museum (Howes Cave, NY)
The Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave, New York, is located on 45 acres of ancestral lands belonging to the Mohawk people and designed to look like a Great Iroquois Longhouse. Home to a vast collection of Indigenous American artifacts and art, the museum also features a nature park with trails where you might encounter wildlife such as foxes and deer. Inside, stroll through galleries featuring Iroquois art from the 1960s to the present, such as stone carvings, basketry and works made from antlers. Archaeological and historical art collections are also on display, featuring clothing and tools. During Labor Day weekend, experience the annual Iroquois Festival, which showcases traditional dancing, archeological demonstrations and an art market.
Chumash Indian Museum (Thousand Oaks, CA)
Open on Saturdays and Sundays, the Chumash Indian Museum is a living history center and historical site dedicated to preserving the history and promoting awareness of the Chumash people. Explore the replica of a Chumash Village and peer through the doorways of two thatched longhouses. View dioramas showcasing the Native’s everyday life, from hunting and gathering to cooking. Marvel at thousand-year-old Chumash pictographs and artifacts like woven baskets, farming tools and fishing equipment.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (Santa Fe, NM)
Sante Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts & Culture tells the stories of the Southwest’s Indigenous American populations through rotating exhibitions featuring contemporary art and events. Check out examples of Navajo weaving on display. See a curation of necklaces, bracelets and pins from Indigenous artist Anthony Lovato. And don’t miss the “Here, Now, and Always” exhibition showcasing more than 600 pieces from the museum’s collection of Native ceramics, jewelry, fashion and artwork. Visit on Sundays for free education classes and family-friendly activities. The museum also hosts a Native speaker series with rotating topics.
Abbe Museum (Bar Harbor, ME)
Once a small trailside attraction, Abbe Museum has become a must-visit spot in downtown Bar Harbor. Experience 12,000 years of the Wabanaki Nation’s history through stories, replicas, artifacts and textiles. Explore the museum’s core exhibit, People of the First Light, which tells the story of the Wabanaki through oral histories, interactive digital displays and artwork. The exhibit’s centerpiece is a two-story ash tree sculpture that connects the various aspects of the space, from Native clothing on display to canoe replicas.