Can I Visit the Reservations?

Monument Valley (UT/AZ border)

The best part of my job is spending time in the remote reservation communities where we work. I leave my visits with our Program Partners and participants envious of the strong family ties and clear connection to culture that are evident among the people. I am inspired by the resourcefulness and resilience I see on every visit as well as the hospitality, generosity and good humor I experience. I am also humbled by the level of poverty many families face.  I know that I am privileged to have lived and worked in Indian country for many years.

Every summer our offices receive calls from the non-Native public wondering whether they can visit a reservation. Some are wondering whether such visits are allowed; others wonder whether permits are required; some are just asking about the best time of year to visit. We wanted to spend a little time on this topic since it is the summer travel season. During the next few weeks we will be posting about some great destinations in and around Indian country that provide education about culture and history as well as exposure to community celebrations and beautiful countryside.

Badlands (SD)

Most Americans have never visited reservations so I want to kick off our tourism posts with a few words on general etiquette and protocol, if you are interested in visiting reservation communities.  All American Indian reservations, villages, and pueblos operate under their own government and may have different rules for visitors. Your general guide should be to exercise common courtesy.

Additional Tips We Can Offer for Visiting the Reservations:

  • All communities contain a diversity of tribal members who practice varying degrees of tradition. Also, while some reservations may have characteristics similar to another, each is home to tribes that have distinct cultures and histories. Therefore, what is acceptable in one community or at one event may not be appropriate at another.
  • Show respect to the people and the rules. Treat the residents with courtesy and observe the signs that have been put in place to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the land and people. Pay close attention to posted traffic and road signs and do not litter.
  • Be aware of which places are public and which are private or restricted. If you are unsure, do not enter.
  • Do not pick up artifacts or ruins such as pieces of pottery.  This would be inappropriate and Native American remains and artifacts are protected by tribal law and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
  • If you are fortunate enough to be in attendance at a dance or ceremonial event, dress in a modest, kempt, and appropriate manner. Avoid excessive talking, questioning, and applause. Be a respectful observer.  Check in advance whether photography is allowed. If not, by all means respect that rule.
  • Be a polite and attentive listener.
  • If food or a meal is offered to you, be polite and accept it.
  • Alcohol is not permitted on many reservations.
  • Do some research before your trip. Knowing more about the culture, history, and traditions of the people who live on the reservation you plan to visit will enhance your experience and help you avoid mistakes in etiquette. Many tribes have information for visitors on their websites, including a tourism page, a calendar of events that are open to the public, and rules of etiquette or protocol.
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