Nearly 575 recognized Native American tribes, including the Choctaw, Cherokee, Sioux and Navajo Nations, populate the United States today. These original inhabitants of this land continue the traditions and maintain the culture that their ancestors established before Christopher Columbus and other Europeans colonized the Americas.
“Native peoples challenge us to confront our past and do better,” President Joe Biden
said in his 2022’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation. “We honor the sovereignty, resilience and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world, and we recommit to upholding our solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations.” View these images from the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest images for a glimpse into America’s varied, storied Indigenous cultures.
Melissa “Little Wolf” Villalobos, a member of the Kumeyaay Mission tribe of Native Americans from the San Pasqual reservation, is a musician who performs on a variety of Native American flutes.
Kerrick James, Utah, 2021
Each year, members of Native nations including the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee gather for the Oka Kapassa celebration, to honor their culture, traditions and other tribes that once inhabited the area.
Jeremy Inman, Alabama, 2018
A Cherokee woman on her ancestral land in Oklahoma wears a tear dress, named for the method used to separate the fabric before sewing.
Bryan Downey, Oklahoma, 2015
This colorful, feathered item is part of the ceremonial dress at a Native Indian powwow.
Brad Orsted, Michigan, 2011
Seemingly unfazed by the ominous clouds above, a Navajo dancer performs a traditional hoop dance, evoking the endless circle of life and our interconnectedness with the world around us.
Michele Scott, Arizona, 2020
Holding on to Native American traditions can be difficult, but some teenagers and young adults—including Alex Good Cane Milk, a Sioux member of the International Indigenous Youth Council—are eager to learn skills from their elders.
Erin Lefevre, North Dakota, 2018
Members of the Otoe-Missouria tribe of Oklahoma gather each July for a powwow. Participants represent many generations of the tribe.
Olivier Rey, Oklahoma, 2017
Wearing beads, feathers and ribbons in her hair, Autumn Rain Hackett, a young Southern Traditional dancer, tours the Native American powwow circuit, helping expose others to her tribe’s culture.
Paula Schultz, California, 2016
Dressed in multicolored traditional garb, a Native American elder performs a graceful dance at a Red Lake Nation powwow.
Jelieta Walinski, Minnesota, 2022
Native Americans in the U.S. Southwest have built adobe architecture for centuries. The material is often a mixture of sand, clay, water and straw.
Joseph Rouse, New Mexico, 2017
With teepees in the background, a man from the Flathead Indian Reservation proudly dons traditional attire, adorned with horns, feathers and colorful fabrics and ribbons.
Dan Toomer, Montana, 2022
A young Navajo boy, wearing traditional beads and moccasins, gazes up at towering stalks of corn that are double his height.
Natallia Yerzhannikava, California, 2022
Each year, the International Indian Treaty Council hosts a Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island. Native people from around the world travel to participate and remember the original occupation of the island.
Paula Schultz, California, 2015
Dressed in full regalia, a dancer celebrates during the annual Cherokee National Holiday. The event commemorates the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Nation Constitution.
Corey Soap, Oklahoma, 2014