Standing in the presence of ancient architectural ruins never fails to take the breath away or hold the mind in thrall. Coming up on ancient heritage sites is one of the things we love most about travel. While adventure, adrenaline, volunteer work, and sharing meals with locals are certainly humbling in their own way, few moments are as edifying as being face to face with humanity’s history, especially for anthropology nerds like us.
This week is Indigenous People’s Week, inspired by the United Nation’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9th. In light of celebrating indigenous cultures around the world, we wanted to take a few moments to reflect on our own experiences with the incredible native peoples of Arizona and particularly the ancient heritage sites that speckle the state. One of the greatest treasures of traveling through North America is getting the privilege to glimpse the few Native American heritage sites that are still standing. These sites are rare and often found after miles of driving or riding along dirt roads. Many ancient tribes used organic materials that have since worn away with time, were nomadic or left few traces of their existence or have had their heritage erased with the advance of European settlement.
Luckily for us during our last production trip in central Arizona, we stumbled across remnants of the Sinaguan people (1000-1400 A.D.), who had built sturdy dwellings into rock faces where water, wind and time caused only minimal damage. Standing in front of a massive stone wall covered in centuries-old pictographs, only able to guess what any of them really meant, we were reminded of the fleetingness of life and how every trail has been trod on many times before and will feel many more footsteps again.
The name Sinagua is derived from the Spanish sin agua or “without water.” There is still a lot to learn about the Sinagua, their actual name and origins are still a mystery and while many anthropologists believe that they joined the Hopi tribes in the north when political and environmental climates were changing, the only thing we know for certain is that they vanished from their homes, leaving few clues as to what happened.
If you live in the Americas or are just traveling through, an important part of understanding the history and culture of the continents is learning about indigenous heritage and culture. If you happen to be in the Southwest United States, be sure to do some research on the Northern Arizona Native American Culture Trail (NANACT). Arizona has many famous attractions but the largest of them all is the Grand Canyon National Park, which attracts roughly 4.4 million visitors a year. Regional tourism in Arizona generates $687 million dollars annually. NANACT’s goal is to educate visitors about the original (and current) cultural groups of the area and it has siphoned funds to directly benefit local tribes.
We will be covering some of Central Arizona’s heritage sites in our upcoming issue and talking more about NANACT and their culture trail in the coming weeks in honor of the 4th annual Indigenous Peoples Week hosted by Planeta.com, Nutti Sámi Siida, TIME Unlimited, and The Travel Word. Be sure to take out some time this week to discover the indigenous history of your local area. Also, be sure to participate in Outbounding.org’s discussion about best practices for indigenous tourism. We hope discussions and forums like this will help cultural tourism as a whole move from what is often an exploitative model to one that supports preservation and education.