Things To Do: Ways to Celebrate Native American Culture / Discover the History of Nearby Native Americans

WORDS
Alex Mitchell Mortenson
PUBLISHED
November 2016 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
October 24, 2016
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In the midst of celebrating your own traditions this month, teach your children the value of appreciating other cultures and traditions by taking them to places that honor Native American history. (November is Native American Heritage Month, after all.) Both Texas and our neighbor to the north have sites aplenty to discover the rich history of local tribes and to educate your family on their modern-day presence and cultural significance.

Transport your little explorers back in time with a trip to The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum in Cleburne. After scoping artifacts dating back to 15,000 B.C. on display in the indoor Big Bear Native American Museum, kids get free rein in an outdoor Old West town, complete with two teepees, a working blacksmith shop and a period-correct one-room schoolhouse, sheriff’s office and jail. During the museum’s annual Pioneer Days event Nov. 18–20, the town comes to life with Native Americans in full regalia, cowboys and mock gunfighters. Tour Terry’s Texas Rangers Civil War encampment, and find treasures and snacks from both Native American and nonindigenous vendors. Museum is open Thursday–Sunday. Admission to Big Bear Native American museum: adults, $5; kids 7 and younger, free.
Cleburne, 817/648-4633
 
A little more than a millennium ago, an offshoot of the Caddo nation called the Hasanai established a permanent settlement near Alto. While most of the settlement has long disappeared, three earthen mounds still remain at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Walk (or drive golf carts) on small gravel trails to access two of the three mounds: one conical-shaped burial mound and one flat-topped temple mound. To get a bit of background before you venture out to the mounds, watch a nine-minute informational video in the small museum, and view the interior of a Caddo house filled with replica items like ceramic pots, baskets and mats. Outside, step inside a reproduction of a Caddo grass house, a 25-foot round structure composed of switchgrass, pine, and willow. Adults, $4; ages 6–18, $3; ages 5 and younger, free.
Alto, 936/858-3218
 
From Caddo Mounds, drive 20 minutes east to Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas. At the Nacogdoches Visitor’s Center, learn more about the history of the Caddo Indians, and explore the town on a self-guided walking tour that leads to an earthen mound left by the Nacogdoches tribe, a member of the Caddo nation. 
Nacogdoches, 936/564-7351
 
Just across the Red River in Sulphur, Oklahoma, you’ll find the Chickasaw Cultural Center, a 109-acre campus that honors the history of the Chickasaw people through architecture, cultural demonstrations, art exhibitions and gardens. Mark your calendar for two can’t-miss November events: Multi-Tribal Day on Nov. 5, with hymns, dancing, stickball games and cultural demonstrations from the Chickasaw and other tribes, and the special family-friendly Thanksgiving Celebration Nov. 19–20, which includes an ornament-making class. During these events or any day you visit, catch a traditional stomp dance (happy feet can even join in) and step in to the fully immersive “spirit forest” where technology and theatrical effects mimic natural woodland sights and sounds to tell an ancient Chickasaw story. Plus, check the schedule to see live cultural demonstrators in a replica of a traditional Chickasaw village complete with a council house and stickball field. Adults, $6; kids 12 and younger, free.
Sulphur, Oklahoma, 580/622-7130
 
Nocona was once inhabited by numerous Native American tribes, from a Wichita tribe called the Taovaya people to the Pawnee and Comanche nations. Kids connect with these tribes’ history in the Native American hall of the Tales ’N’ Trails Museum, home to hundreds of authentic artifacts such as arrowheads, spearheads, pottery, even a Navajo blanket. Don’t miss the interactive tattoo exhibit, where kids ink themselves with simple symbols like a triangle and a chicken foot (using rubber stamps, of course) and learn about the cultural importance of tattooing within the Wichita tribe. Visit the front desk to get an age-appropriate scavenger hunt sheet that invites littles to explore the whole museum by solving mysteries. Adults, $5; students, $3; kids 12 and younger, free.
Nocona, 940/825-5330

Right at Home
 
Given the size and scope of the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection — 24,000 art objects spanning more than 5,000 years of history — it’s no surprise that the museum is home to a wealth of Native North American art. Head to the Hoblitzelle gallery on the fourth floor to see a display of 61 objects (some of which date back to 800 A.D.) including cauldrons, masks, bowls and garments. In honor of Thanksgiving, see if your little one can spot the “Classic Mimbres Black-on-White Bowl,” a thousand-year-old ceramic piece thought to originate from a Southwestern tribe, such as the Hopi, that depicts a turkey eating a centipede. General admission is free.
Dallas, 214/922-1200
 
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (next door to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History) pays homage to three Native Americans in its Hall of Fame that honors women who’ve shaped the American West. Check out the larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who led Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Louisiana Purchase territory in the early 1800s. Then find the exhibits honoring lesser-known Hall of Famers: Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee tribe, and Maria Martinez, a famous Pueblo potter. Spend leftover time atop a bucking bronco ride (don’t worry — there’s a large foam cushion underneath) and snapping family photos with historic cowgirls in the museum’s photo booths. Adults, $10; ages 4–12, $8; ages 3 and younger, free. 
Fort Worth, 817/336-4475

When we think about the Old West, we often picture the classic “cowboys vs. Indians” tale so popular in Westerns. Fort Worth’s National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame dispels the myth of these cut-and-dried roles by telling the story of Hispanic, Native American, African and Asian individuals who inhabited the Western frontier. Experience the rich history of Native American cowboys on Saturdays from noon–4pm, when the museum is open to the public; be sure to find the photographs and ornamental headband of Hall of Famer Vicky Herrera Adams, a Native American horse trainer and rodeo performer. Littles dress up in traditional cowboy garb and learn history through free storytelling from 1–3pm. Call ahead to ask about free Saturday archery lessons from 9am–2pm for ages 4 and older at the museum’s community garden, a 10-minute drive away. Adults, $6; ages 5 and under, free.
Fort Worth, 817/922-9999

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