Can I Visit the Reservations
Each summer, PWNA receives calls from people wondering whether they can visit a reservation, or if they need permission, or the best time to visit. Many Native American reservations and communities welcome visits and generously share education about their culture and history and area.
At the same time, most Americans have never visited a reservation, and all American Indian reservations, villages, and pueblos operate under their own government and may have different rules for visitors.
So, summer is a good time to re-run our tips on visiting the reservations and share some general etiquette and protocol, the most basic of them being to exercise common courtesy.
Tips 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.