9 Native American Heritage Sites

While we find our own nation's history fascinating, we often forget that we were not the first people to settle the lands of North America. Since before Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and the Norse explorers before them, Native Americans lived and thrived on this great continent. Though there has been an unfortunate history with tribal-federal relations, it remains a duty to humanity to preserve the lives and cultures of Native American heritage. Visit one of these beautiful and educational Native American heritage sites on your next student trip.

1. Aztec Ruins National Monument

Despite the name, the area in northwestern New Mexico was actually settled by Ancestral Puebloans, sometimes referred to as Anasazi. Most of the structures are now stone foundations and walls that date back  to the 11th-13th centuries. Enter the reconstructed Great Kiva, a ceremonial building, the oldest and largest reconstruction of its kind. You can also explore the Aztec West Trail, visit historic archaeologist Earl Morris' home, and see an introductory video on the park as narrated by Pueblo people.

2. Mesa Verde National Park

Established in 1906, this Colorado park also preserves the history of Ancestral Puebloans. Instead of ruins, Mesa Verde holds an amazing collection of 600 cliff dwellings, mostly intact, including the iconic Cliff Palace. These stone homes have stood for nearly a thousand years, sheltered by the canyon's deep recesses. As the park protects over 5,000 archaeological sites, it may be difficult to see everything so stop by the Visitor Center first as well as the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and then visit either Cliff Palace or the Spruce Tree House to get the most out of your trip.

3. Knife River Indian Villages

Located on the Upper Missouri River in North Dakota, the Knife River National Historic Site was established in 1974 to preserve the history of the Northern Plains Indians. A collection of three agricultural villages, the largest dates back to roughly 1600. These villages and its people were devastated by small pox in 1837, forcing the survivors to evacuate and migrate to a nearby village. Today several structures and reconstructions stand on the site including the Earth Lodge, Hidatsa gardens, and more. Take the Big Hidatsa Trail to visit the oldest and largest of these historic villages.

4. Historic Jamestowne

You probably know the name Jamestowne in connection with early British settlers but this historic park holds much more history. Originally, James Fort was built on the land adjacent to the later Jamestown settlement in 1607 on land once utilized by the Virginian Indians, or Powhatan tribe. Evidence of early colonials and the Powhatan Indians have been found by continuous archaeological efforts which are open to the visiting public. Visiting Historic Jamestowne gives you an approachable look into the past with museum exhibits, building reconstructions, an open view into dig sites, and living history presentations.

5. Little Bighorn Battlefield

As European settlers began encroaching on Great Plains territories, tensions rose. Defending their land and protecting their people, the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes fought back against American armies who invaded. The largest and most devastating of the Sioux Wars in the early 19th century is known as Little Bighorn, famous as the site of "Custer's Last Stand." Here, almost three hundred out of seven hundred American soldiers were killed or injured, including Lt. Col. Custer. The park in North Dakota memorializes the historic battle with a National Cemetery, Indian Memorial, and more.

6. Effigy Mounds National Monument

Across the United States are evidence of Native American mounds but you can only find what is known as effigy mounds in the upper Mississippi River valley. These mounds are formed in the shape of animals like bison, eagles, deer, and turtles. Built for a number of reasons, it is clear that the Eastern Woodland Indians held their connection between the earth and spirit in the highest regard. 191 mounds exist on this park in northern Iowa and you can visit a number of intact mounds, watch a film on the history of mound-builders, view excavated artifacts, or simply explore the landscapes that inspired the Native Americans.

7. Sitka National Historical Park

Schools may often overlook the Russian colonization of America, namely on Alaskan soil. The battle between Russian invaders and local tribes in Southeastern Alaska is preserved in Sitka along with a number of artistic and cultural features. The iconic totem pole traditions of the Tlingit tribe and other artifacts are on display, preserved as a representation of the tribe's individuality. Visit the Russian Bishop's House, one of the last buildings from the Russian-American colonization, watch the "Voices of Sitka" video, or take an ecotour of the sensational surrounding landscapes.

8. Trail of Tears

Commemorating the devastating removal of Cherokee people from their homeland in the south, the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail leads to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. As the trail stretches over 5,000 miles, the journey is best made in pieces or by vehicle. The driving tours through Hamilton County and Chattanooga, Tennessee are recommended as are visits to the Tennessee River Museum, the Andrew Ross Home and the Fort Payne Cabin, both in Fort Payne, Alabama.

9. Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park

Located just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, the Pueblo Grande park is an ancient Hohokam site dating back 1,500 years. The archaeological park has excavated and reconstructed a platform mound, ballcourt, and prehistoric homes. Displaying Hohokam culture and history, the Museum presents three galleries of excavated artifacts and activities. This is the largest site of its kind in the Phoenix area, and one that shouldn't be missed.