In the Real America, our focus on the great states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming has always been centered on their natural beauty, their thriving tourism industries and the part each played in shaping American’s west into the diverse and vibrant enclave it is today. One central aspect of each state’s history and modern culture is the fascinating role Native Americans played – and continue to play – in America’s West.
As a visitor to the Real America Region, you have the opportunity to learn and experience firsthand how Native American tribes continue to provide valuable economic and cultural contributions to the American Rockies region. As you begin to explore, however, it is very important to keep in mind that customs and Native American laws should at all times be heeded in order to make this experience as productive and meaningful as possible for all parties. Below are several points that should be considered as you venture into Native American territory:
- If you are witnessing a tribal ceremony, discretion is always the best route – at least initially. Always assume the role of “fly on the wall” spectator during a ritual, making certain to never get in the way of those conducting or participating in the ceremony. There are instances, or course, when outside participation is welcomed by the emcee, at which point you should feel free to volunteer and join in!
- Please refrain from touching or handling any of the feather or buckskin outfits of dancers or those in regalia, unless expressly invited to. These items often have ceremonial and personal meaning to the owner, and many of these outfits may be identified as family heirlooms.
- While photographs and video recording is a great way to capture the authentic beauty of Native American customs and regalia, it is never a good idea to do so without first having express permission. Furthermore, certain rituals that require intense concentration from the participants (such as dance and drum ceremonies) can be disrupted by flash photography. Always use your best judgment and be certain to have permission before shooting or filming.
- Respect and obey all tribal laws. Tribes are sovereign nations on American soil and have jurisdictional rights.
- It is unlawful to harvest, gather or remove plants, medicines or trees from tribal grounds without express permission from a tribal representative.
- It is highly illegal to pick up or loot artefacts from sacred sites, burial, traditional and cultural properties. It is equally forbidden to trespass on any of these sites without proper escort.
- It can be construed as a sign of disrespect to openly discuss burials, burial sites, and those who have passed on.
- As a sign of deference (and a sign of common sense!) do not ever bring drugs or alcohol on any reservation or tribal territory. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden at all ceremonies, powwows and tribal events.
- Remember: When in doubt, ask first!
Part of the exceptional culture and history in the featured states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are firmly rooted in Native American tradition. As you explore everything these states have to offer, simply keep in mind these few guidelines.