12 Iconic US Landmarks and Their Native American Roots

Written By Wise Healthy n Wealthy

The United States is home to some of Earth’s most spectacular natural wonders. From incredible canyons to glacial valleys and deserts with gravity-defying rock formations, these iconic places have become some of the country’s most celebrated attractions.

However, most of them were hugely significant to indigenous Americans long before they were known to the wider world! They were (and remain) sacred sites and traditional tribal lands, often steeped in intrigue and attached to creation stories. Here are 12 such landmarks and the Native American history you may not have known about.

1. Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

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This prominent landmark was America’s first national monument. Rising hundreds of meters from the river and prairie below, it’s an unmistakable geological feature that’s become a popular climbing spot.

It’s also a sacred, revered place for more than 20 native American tribes. The Arapahoe know it as “Bear’s Tipi,” the Crow call it “Bear’s Lodge,” and the Kiowa call it “Tree Rock.” They worshipped here, wintered here, laid esteemed tribe members to rest here, and much more.

2. Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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With its wave-like rock formations and magnificent colors, this awe-inspiring Arizonan slot canyon is one of America’s most photogenic locations. The Navajo or Diné people call it Tsé Bíghanílíní, which means “The place where water runs through rock.” It’s a sacred site that’s seen as a meeting place between the physical and spiritual worlds.

3. Denali, Alaska

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Welcome to America’s tallest mountain. Known as Mount McKinley for most of the last century, the ex-President it was named after had no actual connection to the peak (he never even visited Alaska). In 2015, officials restored its name to what the local Athabascans call it.

Apparently, Denali comes from the Koyukon Athabascan word Deenaalee, which means “the high one.” The mountain has a central role in their creation story, which you can listen to here.

4. Yellowstone National Park

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America’s first national park is world-renowned for its natural beauty, geothermal landscapes, and diverse fauna and flora. It has a tragic history, though.

The Smithsonian describes how indigenous tribes had hunted and gathered here for millennia. After the US government formed the national park, though, they forced them all out with help from the army. Officials then told visitors Native Americans had never been there – a narrative still maintained on Yellowstone brochures to this day.

5. Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah

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Standing 88 meters tall and 83 meters across, the aptly named Rainbow Bridge is one of the largest natural bridges on Earth.

It’s been known to white explorers since the early 20th century when it was made a national monument. However, Rainbow Bridge has been revered by neighboring indigenous tribes since time immemorial. It’s a sacred place where people make offerings and say prayers – especially before passing underneath.

6. Mount Katahdin, Maine

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Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Its name derives from the Penobscot Tribe and means “Great/Greatest Mountain.”

Another revered and sacred place, the Penobscots believed an evil spirit called Pamola lived on the summit. They cautioned people against going to the top, believing those who reached it would suffer Pamola’s wrath. Katahdin remains an important spiritual site for the Penobscots.

7. Alcatraz, California

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For most people, San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island is synonymous with the prison that operated there until 1963. Interestingly, though, this site may have been used to separate certain members of society from the wider community long before then, too.

According to the NPS, oral histories suggest Native American tribal members who had done something wrong may have been “isolated or ostracized” on the island. Local tribes may also have camped and gathered food there.

8. The Everglades, Florida

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These famous flooded grasslands in Florida are incredibly biodiverse. Alligators, crocodiles, turtles, and hundreds of different fish and birdlife, among others, call the area home.

The Everglades has also been inhabited for millennia by people, though. When Europeans first arrived, there were around 20,000 indigenous people spread across at least five different tribes: the Tequesta, Calusa, Jaega, Ais, and Mayaimi.

9. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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The otherworldly landscapes of Badlands National Park have strong connections to Indigenous people. Apparently, the first nomadic tribes came here over 10,000 years ago.

The Lakota Nation eventually ended up being the dominant tribe, and we have them to thank for the park’s name. According to the NPS, the Lakotas called it mako sica, which literally translates to bad lands. It’s an ode to the inhospitable terrain.

10. Shiprock, New Mexico

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Rising 600 meters above the desert, Shiprock casts a striking silhouette across the otherwise flat and barren terrain. It’s an iconic rock formation that’s sacred to the Navajo people. They call it Tsé Bitʼaʼí, which means “the rock with wings” or “winged rock.”

In the traditional Navajo story of Shiprock, it was an enormous bird that saved their ancestors from danger, carrying them on its wings to this land and to safety.

11. Spider Rock, Arizona

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This epic spire of red rock juts like a mighty stalagmite from the floor of Canyon de Chelly, rising an impressive 240 meters above it. Fun fact: Chelly was the Spanish interpretation of the Navajo word Tséyi’, which translates literally to “within/inside the rock.”

Spider Rock is another site of sacred significance for Navajo people. It’s said to be the home of Spider Woman (or Spider Grandmother), a wise spirit and protector of people. Among other things, she had an integral part in the creation story and taught the Navajo how to weave.

12. Mount St. Helens, Washington

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Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano that dominates the Cascade Range in southwestern Washington. It looks very different today from how it did 50 years ago. On March 27, 1980, it erupted catastrophically, wiping out a vast hunk of its north face and killing 57 people.

The threat of eruption was likely known to Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest. According to the United States Geological Survey, some called this sacred spot Lawilátɬa, meaning “one from whom smoke comes.” Other nations called it Louwala-Clough, meaning “smoking or fire mountain.”

This post first appeared on whatsdannydoing.com.

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