By Josephine Matyas

In Arizona, land and culture are inseparable for the many welcoming Native tribes who call this home. This is the sacred heart of the Southwest – where the people of 22 tribes including the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni still practice the centuries-old traditions of their ancestors.

The tribal lands give visitors a chance to experience a rich tapestry of ceremony, art, cuisine and custom – whether examining prehistoric ruins, witnessing a tribal festival or discovering the heart of Native American Indian history.

Arizona’s reservations and pueblos are sovereign nations with their own customs and tribal laws. Show respect, and travel with an open mind – the journey will be a memorable one.

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Sacred Sites
The windswept landscape and well-preserved traditions of the tribal lands are often described as timeless. The northeast corner of the state, known as the Four Corners, is home to more than a dozen national monuments, tribal parks and historic sites.

Described as “the most sacred place on Earth,” the majestic Canyon de Chelly National Monument covers 330 square kilometres of precipitous gorges, towering red rock spires, fertile farmland and ancient Anasazi ruins. Roads and short hiking trails line the rims, but the only way to explore the canyon bottom is on a Navajo-led tour. Tour operators can be booked at the park Visitor Center.
Straddling the northern border with Utah is the world-famous Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a dreamlike landscape of red sandstone spires, buttes and mesas that have been featured in countless Western films. Goulding’s Trading Post near the entrance to the park still stands today. Navajo guides provide fascinating jeep tours into the backcountry; otherwise visitors must stay to the bumpy 30-kilometre loop road.

At the edge of Lake Powell is the world’s largest known natural bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, a salmon-pink span of sandstone, symbolizing rainfall and fertility to the Navajo. In 2010 the Bridge celebrates its centennial anniversary as a National Monument.

The Hopi Cultural Center in Second Mesa introduces visitors to the deeply-rooted, spiritual ways of one of the continent’s oldest civilizations. The 12 small villages on the three mesas of Hopiland have breathtaking views over the lower desert, and often hold colourful events like the Hopi Snake Dance in the village of Walpi. Many sacred ceremonies are closed to the public, so it is best to check first and to follow respectful decorum at all times.

Museums
Visiting one of Arizona’s world-class museums is the best start to understanding the Native American culture of ceremony, artistry, symbolism and deep traditions.

Heard Museum, Phoenix.Greater Phoenix CVBThe Heard Museum in Phoenix’s arts district showcases the cultural heritage of Native peoples – it’s a must-see introduction to the founding heritage and art of the Southwest. Indoor and outdoor galleries provide space for music, dance, festivals and priceless Native American fine art.

Any visit to the northern part of the state should start at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. With more than five million pieces on display, the Museum is a treasure trove of information on the history of the tribes, traditional weaving, pottery, katsinas and jewelry, as well as the geology of the sacred land.

The Pueblo Grande Museum is located in Phoenix at the 1,500-year-old ruins of a prehistoric Hohokam village. Visitors can walk the ruin trails and explore the remains of an 800-year-old platform mount that may have been used for ceremonies.

In southeastern Arizona, the Amerind Foundation is an anthropological and archaeological museum and research centre showing the story and culture of Native peoples. The many fragile exhibits include a bow made and signed by Geronimo and a set of Apache rawhide playing cards.

AOTAOTTrading Posts To Galleries
Many visitors come to Arizona in search of colourful Navajo rugs, fine silver and turquoise jewelry, intricately woven baskets and carved Hopi katsina dolls. The crafts made by Native artisans are considered works of art, and finding the right piece can be a part of the holiday fun. Part of the joy is the chance to buy from the creator or tribe member at a historic trading post or roadside stand; most original pieces are marked with the artist’s name and tribal affiliation.

The Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado is known for its outstanding collection of Navajo rugs, as well as Pueblo katsina dolls, pottery and paintings. It’s a good spot for the serious collector to purchase high quality in an historic location.

AOTAOTJust 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon, the sandstone and log Cameron Trading Post showcases a variety of Native American and Southwest art from handmade originals to more contemporary dream catchers and sandpaintings.

The Hopi Mesa villages north of Winslow and Flagstaff are known for silver jewelry, brightly-painted katsina dolls representing the sacred spirits, coiled baskets and fine pottery.

Galleries and museum gift shops in Tucson, Flagstaff, Sedona and Phoenix showcase original works – good bets are at the Heard Museum gift shop in Phoenix, Medicine Man Gallery and Grey Dog Trading in Tucson.

Games Of Chance
Arizona’s tribal-run casinos can now be found in every corner of the state. For those who yearn to challenge Lady Luck, there are 18 casinos with slot machines, keno, blackjack, roulette, poker as well as massive bingo halls. In addition to gaming, many casinos showcase top-notch stage shows and entertainment and are attached to luxury resorts with dining from sports bars to five-stars.

The Paradise Casino in Yuma has hosted big name musical stars like Willie Nelson. The Las Vegas-style show at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Casino Arizona is known for its realistic impersonator shows. Gamblers can play round the clock at Casino del Sol in Tucson, with 24-hour blackjack and poker and 1,300 slots. The Blue Water Resort and Casino, right on the Colorado River in Parker, has one cent to 10-dollar slots to fit every gambling budget. The Talking Stick Resort, developed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community just east of Scottsdale, promises stunning mountain views, 500 deluxe guest rooms and suites, a world-class spa and multiple casual and fine dining options, as well as 22,300 square metres of gaming open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.