Long before the discovery of gold brought pioneers to the area, Colorado served as home to a wide array of Native American tribes whose descendants continue today to carry on the traditions. Visitors can get a taste of the art and culture of these indigenous peoples at several Mile High City attractions.
The Denver Art Museum's remodeled Indigenous art galleries opened in 2011 with a new focus on artists, their creations and their inspirations. DAM's Indigenous Arts of North America collection includes more than 18,000 art objects representing the heritage of all cultures and tribes across the United States and Canada. Recognized as one of the best of its kind in the United States, the collection spans more than 2,000 years of artistic creativity, from prehistoric times to the present. The collection includes diverse artistic traditions such as Pueblo ceramics, Navajo textiles, Northwest Coast sculpture, basketry, Plains beadwork and oil paintings, representing the full range of Indigenous art styles. Over the past 80 years, these artworks have been featured both nationally and internationally in scholarly publications, innovative exhibitions and educational programs. Keep an eye on the Museum's events calendar: The Native Arts Department periodically brings Native American artists to the museum to speak about their art and sponsors an annual Friendship Powwow.
Old West icon Buffalo Bill Cody is buried 30 minutes west of Denver on Lookout Mountain in Golden. The Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave takes visitors through Bill's dynamic life — including his fascinating relationship with American Indians. Originally a scout during the Indian wars, he later became an advocate for American Indians and was well known for treating them with equality and respect during his years touring with Buffalo Bill's Wild West.
As visitors travel through the various regions of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's eye-opening North American Indian Cultures exhibit hall, they'll explore authentically reconstructed dwellings, including an Eskimo snow house, a Northwest Coast clan house, a Navajo hogan and a Cheyenne tipi. Along the way, examine beautifully crafted weavings, basketry, beadwork and pottery. Stop to listen to stories and watch videos on the major cultural groups.
Travel back to a time before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to visit the fascinating culture that created the awesome and mysterious stone structures the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum, located at the foot of Pikes Peak (an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver), is a rare treasure, allowing visitors to explore the remarkably preserved ruins of a long-gone civilization. "There are no ‘Do Not Touch' signs," the Museum's website proudly proclaims. Visitors are free to touch and even go inside these architectural remnants of an American Indian culture that roamed the Four Corners area of the Southwest from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1300.
NATIVE AMERICAN TRADING COMPANY
For more than 25 years, the Native American Trading Company has offered high-quality, affordable and authentic handmade Indian art. Every piece is individually selected by owners Jack Lima and Robin Lima Riddel, who frequently make trips to reservations, pueblos and the homes of the artists in search of the finest pieces, including antique weavings, pottery, baskets, jewelry, artifacts and photographs. Located just across the street from the Denver Art Museum, Native American Trading Company is a must-visit gallery.
NATIVE AMERICAN EVENTS IN DENVER
Every January brings the fun and festive Colorado Indian Market & Southwest Art Fest to Denver, featuring three magical days of art, craft, song, dance and culture. With artists presenting their work, dozens of performers and dazzling costumes at every turn, the Indian Market is a great way to get acquainted with Native American traditions.
Since 1984, the heritage of American Indians has been celebrated in Denver every March at the Denver March Powwow, one of the largest events of its kind in the country. A welcoming glimpse into Native American culture, more than 1,600 dancers from close to 100 tribes from 38 states and three Canadian provinces come to the three-day event, filling the Denver Coliseum with singing, dancing, storytelling, food, art. There are also more than 170 booths selling a variety of Native American artworks and products. Buy jewelry and blankets, pottery and beadwork from some of the nation's most skilled Indian craftspeople. Try Native American foods such as fry bread and Indian tacos or buy an authentic Cheyenne arrow or a Sioux tomahawk.
TESORO INDIAN MARKET AND POWWOW
The Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow features award-winning Native American artists who show their wares and demonstrate their crafts. A contest Powwow fills the valley below The Fort Restaurant, where dancers and drummers share their heritage in competitions of Traditional, Shawl, Fancy, Grass and Jingle dancing. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the traditional dances and regalia while watching the brilliant display of cultures and colors.