November is Native American Heritage Month, and with Thanksgiving preparations on the brain and all the history associated with the holiday, there’s no better time than this month to recognize and honor the cultures and traditions of indigenous tribes who first inhabited these lands. Thankfully, several cultural centers and historic sites in North Texas and Oklahoma operate year-round and welcome families to explore the rich history and modern-day presence of several tribes.
Choctaw Cultural Center
Where: 1919 Hina Hanta Way, Calera, Oklahoma, about an 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Dallas
Open hours: 11am–5pm Sunday; 10am–5pm Wednesday–Friday; 10am–7pm Saturday; closed Monday–Tuesday
Admission: $12 for adults; $9 for veterans, seniors and students; $6 for children 4–12; free for 3 and younger.
Contact/Follow: 833/708-9582; Instagram @choctawculturalcenter and Facebook
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s brand new cultural center debuted in July 2021 in Calera, Oklahoma, with several interactive attractions and exhibits—each created from the Choctaw perspective—that make visit well worth the miles. You’ll discover a replica of an ancient spiritual mound at the center’s outdoor Living Village, along with traditional dancing and stickball game demonstrations on the field.
A giant turtle (Luksi) welcomes families to the Luksi Activity Center, a children’s activity area with traditional Choctaw houses and a miniature forest to explore. The temporary exhibit now on view, Long Ago: Stories of the Choctaw People, delves deeper into the tribe’s history via artistry of oral storytelling and allows you to interact with stories themselves.
With a teaching kitchen for learning how to make traditional meals—and the Champuli Café with kid-friendly meal options for when your young historians get hungry—there’s more than enough to fill a day before returning home to Dallas-Fort Worth. Come for scheduled activities or visit the cultural center anytime during open hours.
One of the best times to celebrate the tribe’s cultural heritage is this November during Native American Heritage Month, or Native November. Visit choctawculturalcenter.com/native-november for all the details about special events and activities, including powwow exhibitions and children’s workshops on select days.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
Where: 867 Cooper Memorial Dr., Sulphur, Oklahoma, about 3 hours north of DFW
Open hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10am–5pm; closed Sunday and Monday
Admission: $7 adults; $6 students, seniors 55+ and military; free for children 12 and younger; free for Chickasaw citizens; $6 for all other federally recognized tribal citizens
Contact/Follow: 580/622-7130; Instagram @ChickasawCCC and Facebook
Just across the Red River, you’ll find the Chickasaw Cultural Center, a 109-acre campus that honors the history of the Chickasaw people through architecture, cultural demonstrations, and art exhibitions (permanent and rotating exhibits). Step outside to see the Spiral Garden, where vegetables—including squash, corn and beans—are planted according to the ancient “Three Sisters” method. The Living Village features cultural experiences that demonstrate 18th-century Chickasaw life such as stickball games, stomp dances and hide scraping. There you can witness a traditional stomp dance 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.
The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and Big Bear Native American Museum
Where: 101 Chisholm Trail, Cleburne, Texas, about 45 minutes south of Fort Worth
Open hours: Saturday from 10am–5pm; (if gate is open) Sunday from 1–5pm. Gate open time is restricted to the number of volunteers we have available, but walking tours are still permitted if the gate is closed. Typically the museum is closed during extreme weather.
Admission: $5 adults; $4 seniors 60+; $2 children 8 and older; free for children 7 and younger. $20 for annual membership. No charge for small tours.
Contact/Follow: 254/998-0261, firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Facebook
Transport your little explorers back in time with a trip to these two museums south of Fort Worth. 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—for 2021 will be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 and 13—the town comes to life with Native Americans in full regalia, as well as cowboys and mock gunfighters. Tour Terry’s Texas Rangers Civil War encampment, and find treasures and snacks from both Native American and non-indigenous vendors.
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site
Where: 1649 State Hwy. 21 West, Alto, Texas, about 2.5 hours southwest of Dallas
Open hours: Site grounds open Tuesday through Sunday 8:30am–4:30pm; Visitors center: Wednesday through Sunday 8:30am–4:30pm. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
Admission: $4 adults; $3 children ages 6–18, $3; free for ages 5 and younger.
Contact/Follow: 936/858-3218; email@example.com; follow the Texas Historical Commission on Instagram @txhistcomm and Facebook
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. 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.
Tales ’N’ Trails Museum
Where: 1522 E Highway 82, Nocona, Texas, about 1.5 hours north of Fort Worth
Open hours: Monday–Friday 10am–5pm; Saturday 10am–4pm; Sundays by appointment. Closed on major holidays
Admission: $10 adults; $5 students and seniors 60+; free for kids 12 and younger; free for preschoolers, museum members, first responders and military.
Contact/Follow: 940/825-5330; firstname.lastname@example.org; Instagram @talesntrailsmuseum
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, a Navajo blanket. Touch and feel real hides from buffalo, deer and rabbit, then learn how to tool leather yourself with impression tools.
Don’t miss the interactive tattoo station, 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. Pick up one of two scavenger hunts at the front desk (one for younger kids and one for older kids) that invites littles to explore the whole museum by solving mysteries. Turn back in a completed sheet for a prize.
Dallas Museum of Art
Where: 1717 N. Harwood St, Dallas, Texas
Open hours: 11am–5pm Tuesday–Thursday and Saturday–Sunday; 11am–9pm Friday; closed Monday and on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Admission: Free general admission; special exhibit pricing varies.
Contact/Follow: 214/922-1200; Instagram @dallasmuseumart and Facebook
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.
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Where: 1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth, Texas
Open hours: 10am–5pm Tuesday through Saturday; noon–5pm Sunday; closed Monday and Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day
Admission: $12 adults; $9 seniors 65+ and military; $6 children ages 4–12; free for 3 and younger; $36 for Cowgirl Family Special (2 adults & up to 4 children)
Contact/Follow: 817/336-4475; Instagram @cowgirlmuseum and Facebook
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.
National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame
Where: 2029 N. Main St., Fort Worth, Texas
Open hours: Wednesday through Saturday noon–4pm.
Admission: $10 adults; $8 military $8 seniors 62+ and students; free for children 5 and younger
Contact/Follow: 817/534-8801 or 817/922-9999; Instagram @nmwhmuseum and Facebook
When we think about the Old West, we often picture the classic “cowboys vs. Indians” tale so popular in Westerns. This Fort Worth museum 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; 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. Call ahead to ask about free Saturday archery lessons for ages 4 and older at the museum’s community garden, a 10-minute drive away.
This article was originally published in November 2016.
Photo courtesy of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma