My back was aching. There was sweat on my brow and back. The stiff Montana sun was baking everything it touched. I looked out on the vast, golden plains with a longing to be anywhere more comfortable. Then, I thought, “Christsakes, at least I’m not on a horse.”
Instead, I was sitting in the relative comfort of a car, featuring both tinted windows and air-conditioning. Still, after nearly 18 hours straight on the interstate, backs begin to ache, brows begin to sweat, and your playlist begins to repeat. It was worth it though. I was on a pilgrimage one of Indigenous America’s most holy sites: The Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Well, maybe calling my trip a “pilgrimage” is a little much. As Indigenous folks, we have a rough history with pilgrims. But to an Indian kid from a rez out West, a trip like this is akin to a Muslim going to Mecca or a Catholic walking the hallowed halls of St. Peter’s. It’s a journey we all feel the need to take one day. One which allows us to support the communities we hold so much reverence for.
My desire to travel through Indigenous America — to see the significant sites and support the local businesses — started with my dad. You see, when we would road trip across America, we didn’t stop at Waffle Houses or roadside McDonald’s, we stopped off on the Rez — any Rez — to give our cash to people there. Instead of grabbing Double-Doubles at another In-N-Out in Utah, we drove the extra miles to eat fry bread from a Navajo shack at Four Corners. I’ve lived that ethos my entire life and have gained a deep cultural identity from it.
Reminiscing on my own adventures got me thinking about the wider Indigenous world in America. Reservations and Indigenous communities are rich with history, scenery, and adventure — but far too often ignored when people start making travel plans. With that in mind, I thought I’d lay down some of my favorite places to stop across Indigenous America when you’re road-tripping this spring and summer. These are places where you can support Indigenous communities with your tourist dollars and maybe learn something new about your country along the way.
LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD, CROW NATION (MONTANA)
As I said above, Little Bighorn Battlefield is one of those few Indigenous destinations that draws a lot of people. This is the spot of one of the biggest (and most decisive) victories in Indigenous American history. It’s a moment of triumph memorialized for all to see and learn from.