Thursday, September 1, 2016

Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum

Aerial View of Sky City
photo by Marshall Henrie for Wikimedia Commons

Name: Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum
Tribe: Pueblo of Acoma
Location: Haaku Road, Pueblo of Acoma, NM 87034
Type: Historic Site, Cultural Center/Museum, Cafe, Gift Shop
Visiting Info: Open daily, 8am-5pm, call for museum hours and tour time registration
Contact: Website, telephone 800-747-0181

The Acoma Pueblo, perched on the top of a 367 ft. high mesa in the New Mexico desert, is one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in North America. It is approximately 2,000 years old and is home to the San Esteban del Rey Mission church which was completed in 1640. Both the mission and the pueblo are on the National Register of Historic Places and are a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sky City Cultural Center
photo from Wikimedia Commons

At the base of the mesa sits the Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum building and visitor parking. The Museum offers permanent and rotating exhibits focusing on Pueblo history and the preservation of Puebloan art, specifically Acoma's famous pottery. The 40,000 sq. ft. Cultural Center complex includes the Y'aak'a Cafe, which serves traditional Acoman and contemporary southwestern cuisine, the Ts'ikinum'a Theater showing short films on Pueblo history and culture, meeting/event space with catering options, and the Gaits'i Gift Shop.

photo from Sky City Casino Hotel webpage

Tours of the Pueblo itself are available daily from the Cultural Center, from 8am to 5pm, but it seems best to call ahead (1-800-747-0181) and register for a tour time and to verify current open hours for the Cultural Center's facilities. The pueblo is continually inhabited by a small group of tribal members, and as such, there are sensitivity issues involved with touring the village. The Acoma people ask that dress should be modest (and mindful of the sometimes extreme weather), pets and smoking are prohibited, and photography is not allowed without a permit. Please read the visitor etiquette page. The tours last an hour and a half and cost $23 for adults, $15 for children. Group tours, family rates, and shorter tours of the mission only are also offered.

San Esteban del Rey Mission
photo from Ken Schneider, Flickr's Creative Commons

The Pueblo people celebrate annual feast days that are related to their specific pueblo and mission saint. The feast day of San Esteban is celebrated at Sky City on September 2nd. If you plan to attend, be sure to read up on the specific etiquette rules before you go. Every year in September the Acoma Pueblo also hosts the Tour de Acoma, a series of 25-, 50-, and 100-mile desert bike races. There is also a Luminaria Celebration and dances at the mission church around Christmas. Check the calendar for special events and annual closed days at the pueblo before you schedule your trip.

Sky City is about 70 miles west of Albuquerque and a ways off of I-40, but the Acoma do have a casino hotel and an RV park directly off of the interstate, and they offer big game hunting tours on the reservation in the Fall. Cibola County is also home to the longest uninterrupted stretch of historic Route 66 in New Mexico, which runs immediately to the north of the Casino as State Highway 124.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Esk'et Tiny House B&B

All photos by Casey Bennet via
Here's the photo gallery

Name: Esk'et Tiny House B&B
Tribe: Esk'et Community of the Secwepemc First Nation
Location: 1197 Wagon Road, Esk'et (Alkali Lake), British Columbia, Canada
Type: Bed and Breakfast lodging
Visiting Info: Can$139-$149 per night, year-round
Contact: Website, telephone: 250-440-5667, email:

Robert and Bettina Johnson built and own the Esk'et Tiny House, a beautiful little cottage on their property near Alkali Lake that they run as a bed and breakfast. Robert is a member of the Esk'etmc community of the Secwepemc Nation and a carpenter, and Bettina is Swiss and runs their website which includes overnight booking info, a blog, indigenous art for sale, and videos on how to build tiny houses.

Their Tiny House sleeps four in two sleeping lofts (one queen, one double) with a full bath. Groceries are provided so that you can prepare whatever kind of breakfast you prefer in the fully functional galley kitchen. The living area has a propane fireplace and there is fire pit with seating outside.

The house is also itself a work of indigenous art. The undulating roof is meant to invoke the idea of salmon, which are also carved under the front rafters, and the side door is intricately carved with bears and salmon.

The Esk'et Tiny House rents for Can$139 from October 1st to May 31st and Can$149 from June 1st to September 30th.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Boston Harbor Islands

Boston skyline from Spectacle Island

Name: Boston Harbor Islands
Tribe: Nipmuc, Massachusett, Wampanoag, Pokonoket
Location: Boston, MA
Type: National Park, State Park
Visiting Info: May-October, Ferry Schedules; Ferry tickets: $10-17, round trip.
Contact: Website, telephone ("Ask a Ranger") 617-223-8666

"Histories and other studies prepared by and with American Indians are needed in order to adequately present Indian connections with the islands. In that those studies are not complete, the following sketch is offered to introduce the complex Native American topics associated with the park."

So begins the National Park Service's webpage about the Native history of the Boston Harbor Islands. The document gives an overview of the seasonal use of the harbor before European colonization and tells about the later forced removal and imprisonment of Natives on the islands after King Phillip's War.

The main prison camp was located on Deer Island, but there is evidence that Native people were also relocated to Peddocks, Long Island, and possibly one of the Brewster Islands. Records show that about half of the people died of starvation, exposure, and illness over the winter of 1675.

Today, as with so much of Indian Country, incredible beauty intermingles with historical horror. The islands, and the harbor itself, have been cleaned up and rejuvenated for public use after decades of environmental degradation. The area is both a state park and a national park and is managed in cooperation by several different agencies. More than 30 islands offer a variety of recreational opportunities and are served by a fairly extensive ferry service.

Hiking trail along the shore of Deer Island overlooking Boston

The park includes three National Historic Landmarks: Long Wharf, Fort Warren, and the 300-year old Boston Light, which is the oldest lighthouse station in the US. Spectacle Island offers a swimming beach, there's camping on Grape, Lovell, Bumpkin, and Peddocks Islands, hiking trails on most of the islands, a marina, and lots of other tours and activities.

The ferry leaves from Long Wharf in downtown Boston (also from ferry docks in Hingham and Hull, MA) and goes to Georges, Spectacle, Peddocks, Lovells, Thompson, Grape, and Bumpkin Islands. You can also make hops between islands if you go early and plan your day carefully. Deer and Nut Islands, Webb Memorial Park, and World's End are accessible by car year-round. Little Brewster Island, home of the Boston Light station, is available only on Ranger-led tours.

Planning for a Native American Memorial is underway, with a site dedicated on Deer Island and a sculpture commissioned from Native artist Lloyd Gray–Nessatako (Mohawk Iroquois of the Onondaga People). There is currently a plaque and signage in place that gives a brief history of the island as a concentration camp.

A model of the proposed Memorial statue by Mohawk sculptor Lloyd Gray-Nessatako.
photo from

A display in the Visitors' Center on Spectacle Island and informational signage on Peddocks Island also briefly present Native history and life on the islands.

Additionally, the National Park Service sponsored an award-winning video series called Living in Two Worlds: Native American Voices on the Boston Harbor Islands. Representatives of the Nipmuc, Massachusett, and Wampanoag tribes give the Native history of Eastern Massachusetts and the Harbor Islands and demonstrate preservation efforts and the resilience of living Native communities in New England today.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Travel Journal: Aquinnah, Noepe (Martha's Vineyard), MA

Traveling with kids is always an adventure. I love to take my kids with me when I get the chance to visit Native communities so they can learn along with me. We have had some great conversations as a result of our travels, and I hope they are more aware of the presence and history of Native people in this country.

But nothing ever goes quite the way you plan when the kids are along for the ride, and you have to learn to roll with it. Sometimes, you just get handed a soggy detour and a recalculation of what you can hope to accomplish that day. This is a story about one of those trips...

They look sweet don't they? No! Don't let them out of your sight for even a second.

We recently had the opportunity to spend an off-season weekend on Martha's Vineyard at a highly reduced price for the rental house. I have been wanting to get out there for ages, but it's pretty expensive even by pricey Massachusetts' standards. The house we were offered was a big one, so the whole family went with us, including grandparents and a cousin.

I didn't have a lot of hope of making it all they way out to Aquinnah, which is on the far western "up island" end of MV away from the ferry ports and our rental in Oak Bluffs, even though I really wanted to check out the Aquinnah (Wampanoag) Cultural Center and the beautiful cliffs on Moshup's Beach. With less than 48 hours on the island and a crowd in tow, I figured we would bump around Oak Bluffs for the day, see the Campground cottages, ride the Flying Horses Carousel, eat some fried clams, and call it good as a scouting trip for future visits. At least I could figure out the ferry options, find some places to eat, and get my bearings.

But fortune smiled on me. The rest of the family was as curious as I was to scope out the whole island, so we ended up renting a car (which all the travel advice says you don't need to do) and spent a whole day making our way out to the Aquinnah Cliffs and back.

Friday afternoon we drove down from Boston to Falmouth to catch the Island Queen Ferry. There are several ferry companies leaving out of Falmouth, Woods Hole, Hyannis, New Bedford, MA, NYC, and Rhode Island: some seasonal, some year round, some are high-speed hovercraft, only Steamship Authority carries cars and all the rest are passenger only (and bikes), all with different hourly schedules. There are also water taxi services and a small airport. It takes some research and planning to even get to Oak Bluffs (or Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, the two other ferry terminals). Are you flying in to New England, taking the train, or are you driving down to the Cape? Will you take your car to the island or pay for parking in the ferry lot? Will you take bikes or rent them in Oak Bluffs? If you are already on the Cape, you can just pop over to MV for the day and back, but if you're coming in from far away and staying for some time, you need a plan.

We took the last ferry over that day and landed in Oak Bluffs right at sunset in need of some dinner and groceries for the morning. There are taxis lined up on the docks whenever the scheduled boats come in, so it was a breeze to grab a van instead of schlepping all the tired kids and luggage a mile uphill to our house. We picked up some pizza and fried clams at Giordano's and some breakfast things and beer at Jim's Package Store and Island Market and settled in around the big dining room table to make plans for the next day.

The off-season weather was too chilly and breezy for a typical day on the beach, so after much discussion, we decided to rent a car at the last minute. We called Martha's Vineyard Auto Rentals first thing in the morning on Saturday, and to my surprise, they actually had a car available that was big enough for all of us. Again, keep in mind that this is all off-season (or what they call around here "shoulder" season, which is spring and fall just outside the normal summer rush). I wouldn't wait until the last minute if you go in summer. Also, we could have used the island bus system, but that wasn't really an option for the crowd I was with for various reasons. And Aquinnah is about 20 miles from Oak Bluffs (MV is BIG, y'all!), so bikes were out for us as well.

We loaded up the kids and hit the open road. In summer, I understand that the roads are clogged with pedestrians and kids on bikes headed for the beaches, especially around the main harbor towns. But off-season we made our way up island on the State Road fairly easily. We stopped in Vineyard Haven to have lunch at the iconic Black Dog Cafe, and made a pit stop at the quirky and historical Alley's General Store in West Tisbury.

The inner part of the island is covered with rolling farms and tiny towns with peeling houses and small churches. It feels as remote and disregarded - and, ironically, as far from the ocean - as the little prairie towns I grew up in. I definitely lost track of my location in the world a couple of times as we drove through the woods and sheep pastures. After almost two hours of eating and meandering and sightseeing, we finally approached Aquinnah Circle on the far western end of the island.

There's some street parking on the circle and also a $15/day parking lot. You are welcome to use the public restroom located in the middle of the loop if you pay 50 cents.

Aquinnah was called Gay Head until the town, which is heavily populated by members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), voted to change the name in 1998. Gay Head refers to the "gaily" colored cliffs on the headland of Moshup's Beach. Aquinnah Circle, therefore, is home to the newly-restored Gay Head Lighthouse, The Wampanoag's Aquinnah Cultural Center, and a collection of small shops and restaurants owned by tribal members.

Looking back up the path from the Cultural Center (left) with the Lighthouse behind (right).

There are trails from the circle that go past the Cultural Center and down to beach where the colorful cliffs stretch back along the bright blue water and pristine sand towards the lighthouse. According the Wampanoag, Moshup the Giant lives in Aquinnah, and when he catches a whale, he bashes it up against the cliffs, leaves the bones to crumble into the sand, and then cooks the meat over an open campfire. This accounts for the streaks of red, white, and black down the fronts of the cliffs.

The Aquinnah Cliffs at Moshups Beach

(Be aware: if you walk all the way down to the point under the lighthouse, the far end of the beach is traditionally a nude beach! My father-in-law ran into a guy who didn't quite get the message that the whole beach wasn't for old naked dudes. Also, the fragile clay cliffs are now a protected National Landmark, so giving yourself a mud bath like the hippies used to do here in the 60's or climbing up them is no longer allowed.)

My girls love the beach, so everyone immediately took off down the hill to the water's edge. I took a good look and a few photos of the cliffs and then snuck back up the boardwalk to tour the Cultural Center in peace. The Center is housed in a picturesque little New England-style grey shingled cottage known as the Vanderhoop Homestead.

Open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 11am-4pm.

The Vanderhoop family are still a major part of the Wampanoag community here, and many of the stories told by the docent inside concerned the history of the family and the way they and the rest of their Native community lived here in Aquinnah through the centuries. There was a mishoon (a traditional canoe) and a cauldron used to render whale fat on display in the yard. Inside the house they have an fascinating old machine invented by a tribal member to sort cranberries as well as examples of the colorfully streaked Aquinnah clay pots the Wampanoag used to make for the tourists from the passenger ships that went by this end of the island in previous centuries.

Right in the middle of the tour, I started to get a string of texts. At first, I tried to reach into my purse and shut my phone off inconspicuously, but then I remembered my kids down on the beach and felt I really ought to check the messages. Good thing I did. My husband was trying to get me to come back to the car because our oldest daughter had fallen into the ocean and was soaking wet in the back of the van, sheltering from the chilly weather and cold wind. This is the daughter of mine who ALWAYS falls in the water and gets soaked from head to toe no matter what the weather or what she's wearing at the time. One of these days I'll learn my lesson and never take her to the beach in cooler weather unless she's wearing a full-body wet suit, but at least I had enough forethought to throw some extra towels in the car just in case! By the time I climbed back up the hill to the parking lot, they had her wrapped up in towels and were ready to go.

My Aquinnah adventure had to come to a rather abrupt end. I didn't fully finish the Cultural Center tour or get to visit the shops on the cliff or eat fried clams overlooking the sea at the Vanderhoop family-owned Aquinnah Shop Restaurant. As we drove right past the Orange Peel Bakery (also owned by a Vanderhoop), I struggled not to demand a quick stop for bread we didn't need lest my weary family leave me on the side of the road and continue home without me.

Oh Aquinnah, I saw more and less of you than I had hoped when I started out on this trip, but that's the way it goes. You are unbearably beautiful and so hard to get to, but I'll be back. Maybe by myself next time.

Also see my other blog post about Aquinnah as well as my posts about the related Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod's mainland.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Skwachàys Lodge, an Aboriginial Hotel & Gallery in Vancouver

all photos from

Name: Skwachàys Lodge
Tribe: Northwest Coast First Nations, Urban Native community
Location: 29/31 West Pender, Vancouver, BC V6B 1R3, Canada
Type: Hotel, Art Gallery, Not-for-profit Social Programs
Visiting Info: Hotel: open daily, Reservations; Gallery: Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm.
Contact: Website, telephone 888-998-0797 (toll free)

Skwachàys Lodge in Vancouver is a jewel of socially responsible travel, culturally inclusive community building, and Native self-reliance. Besides the 18-room boutique hotel and the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery in the lobby, Skwachàys Lodge and Residences is also home to affordable apartments for Native artists, workshops and art production space, and a commercial kitchen. A sweat lodge and smudge room on the roof of the hotel were especially designed as a sanctuary for Native patients who must travel to Vancouver from outlying rural areas for medical treatments.

The project was conceived in part beginning in 2002 by the not-for-profit Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS), who saw a need for culturally sensitive temporary housing for traveling patients. An online community space for local Native artists started by VNHS was later combined with the housing project, and has grown into a gallery and work space for 24 artists-in-residence.

The VNHS was able to mesh its social programs with a provincial and federal government-supported urban renewal project through the renovation of the Victorian-era Pender Hotel. The current façade combines the original, preserved, Victorian architecture with a longhouse and 40-foot story pole by Coast Salish artist Francis Horne Sr. in a unique way that vividly represents the area's history and community. The hotel was renamed Skwachàys (pronounced skwa-chize), the Squamish name for the land at the head of False Creek that is now part of Vancouver. And while these elements unify the layered histories of the place, the video art presentation embedded in the glass sidewalk pushes the project into the future.

Skwachàys Lodge is growing into a public, multifaceted cultural experience and self-sustaining, Native-owned business enterprise. The VNHS transforms the hotel and gallery profits into housing and artist support programs for the local Native community, thereby avoiding federal government aid programs.

The hotel offers two meeting spaces, the Cedars Boardroom and Kayachtn (The Welcome Room). An aboriginally-focused menu provided by Cedar Feast House Catering and local beers and wines are served all day in the Kayachtn Room, where the hotel also holds events such as artist meet-and-greets and storytelling.

Each of the 18 suites has it's own theme and was created by local Native artists and interior designers. The hotel's webpage provides photos and a detailed description of each room, including the names of the artist and decorators.

The Poem Suite

The Longhouse Suite

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Five Civilized Tribes Museum

Name: The Five Civilized Tribes Museum
Tribe: Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole
Location: 1101 Honor Heights Drive, Muskogee, OK 74401
Type: Art and History Museum, NRHP Historic Building
Visiting Info: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-2pm (closed Sundays and all of January), Admission: $1.50-$3
Contact: Website, telephone 918-683-1701

In 1951, a Native women's organization called the Da-Co-Tah Club began a campaign to turn the abandoned Union Indian Agency Building in Muskogee, Oklahoma, into a museum.

The Club's mission since its establishment in the 1930s was to create an intertribal organization to raise awareness of Native history and communities, foster better communication between Nations, strengthen social ties, and meet the needs of their underserved population.

Throughout the Dust Bowl and the Second World War, the Da-Co-Tah women raised money for the Murrow Orphanage, the Drought Relief Fund, the Unemployment Fund, and the Salvation Army, as well as providing services for impoverished children and Native families.

Out of their desire to celebrate Native identity and encourage intertribal cooperation, they envisioned a museum that would showcase the cultures and art of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma - the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole - together. And as part of their vision, they would preserve the building that had once housed the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. The building itself would commemorate the terrible history of the Removal period, the Trail of Tears, and the struggles and survival of the Five Tribes in Oklahoma afterward.

During the 20th century, the Agency Building had passed from the BIA to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who used it as a school for Creek Freedmen. The Creeks gave it to the city of Muskogee in 1909 as part of Honor Heights Park, and then the city gave it back to the federal government during WWII to be part of the veteran's hospital complex that still stands next door. Seeking to transfer the building back to the town of Muskogee, the Da-Co-Tah Club sponsored a bill in the US House of Representatives with Muskogee-born US Rep. Ed Edmonson in 1954.

The House Bill was signed by President Eisenhower in 1955, the building was restored entirely by privately donated funds raised by the Club, and the Museum was opened in 1966.

Today, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum displays historical exhibits on the ground floor and its art collections upstairs. Many of the Five Tribes' most famous artists have pieces on view, and the Museum owns the world's largest collection of works by Jerome Tiger (Muscogee Creek-Seminole). There is a library and archive upstairs, but it is open by appointment only.

The Museum hosts a yearly Masters Art Show in November and a Student Art Show (grades 7-12) in March. The "Art Under the Oaks" Art Market happens in April, around the time of the Azalea Festival in the adjoining Honor Heights Park.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Ocmulgee National Monument

Stairs up the Great Temple Mound
photo from Wikimedia

Name: Ocmulgee National Monument
Tribe: Mississippian and Lamar cultures, Muscogee (Creek)
Location: 1207 Emory Highway, Macon, GA 31217
Type: National Park, prehistoric mounds, hiking trails, museum, events
Visiting Info: Open daily, 9am-5pm, Admission is free except for special events
Contact: Website, telephone 478-752-8257

The Ocmulgee National Monument, located on the Ocmulgee River in Macon, GA, preserves 702 acres of prehistoric mounds and other earthworks built on a site that has been inhabited by Native people for an estimated 17,000 years. The site came under the protection of the National Park Service in 1934 and was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1966.

Although people have been living and hunting along the river since the last Ice Age, the seven mounds located in the park were built by the South Appalachian Mississippian people around 900 AD. The largest earthwork is the Great Temple Mound, which is 55 feet high and has a wooden stairway that visitors can climb to take in the view from the top. Nearby is the Lesser Temple Mound, and the park also includes a burial mound, other small ceremonial mounds, and defensive earthwork trenches.

Park Map via NPS

In addition to the mounds, the park includes six miles of hiking and biking trails, fishing and picnicking areas, and an 800 foot long boardwalk over wetlands. There is also a historic railroad bridge, some civil war era landmarks, the historic site of an English colonial trading post from 1690, and a reconstructed ceremonial earthlodge, the floor of which is the original one thousand year old floor of a Mississippian earthlodge.

Two more mounds and the remains of a palisade and village are located three miles away at the Lamar Mounds and Village Site. The Lamar culture developed after the decline of the Mississippian culture around 1300 AD. The Lamar site is part of the Ocmulgee National Monument park but is accessible only by a park ranger-guided tour and four mile roundtrip hike (call 478-752-8257 for details and reservations).

Ocmulgee Visitor Center
photo from ONMA

Inside the striking, terracotta and white art moderne Visitor Center, there is a gift shop and a small theater area presenting a short orientation film, "Mysteries of the Mounds." An archaeology museum displays thousands of artifacts from excavations that have taken place onsite. Other exhibits detail the history of the Ocmulgee River location, including the rise of the Muscogee (Creek) Confederacy from the descendants of the Lamar people whose culture and population was decimated by disease spread by Hernando de Soto's expedition in 1540.

photo from ONMA on Facebook

Two special events are held at the ONM each year, the Lantern Light Tours in March and the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration in September. The Ocmulgee Indian Celebration is the largest Native gathering in the Southeastern United States and represents all the tribal nations from the region through hundreds of craftspeople and music, dance, food, storytelling, and more.