6 Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Houston
Show up and pay tribute to the region’s vibrant Indigenous communities.
It’s no secret that Houston is an impressive cultural cocktail. From global exhibitions in the Museum District to the Theater District’s international premieres, H-town has quite an appetite for diversity. But even with these attributes, consistent representation of Indigenous folks within these spaces has been severely lacking—despite the integral role these communities have played in the weaving of Texas’ historical fabric.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, there were an estimated 50 Indigenous tribes, including the Atakapa, Akokisa, Karankawa and more, living on the land we now call Houston. Most notably, the Karankawa tribe were the first reported Native Americans in Texas after Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, and his surviving party stumbled upon their land after a shipwreck. For nearly 11,000 years, these groups adapted to the Gulf Coast and the surrounding Plains, fishing, hunting, building, and cultivating their utopias. However, throughout the perils of colonization, these sprawling empires were stolen, and these tribes practically decimated. And after several centuries of violence, disease, and often forced assimilation, Indigenous culture was all but erased from this area.
As of today, about 70,000 Indigenous people still reside in the Houston area, but there are few cultural centers and services dedicated to them. In recent years, the passionate outcry for more representation has led many Texans to recognize how much Indigenous history has been overshadowed by the mistold adventures of Christopher Columbus. Fast-forward to 2020, and the community scored a huge victory when the local city council voted to officially honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And with the state of Texas following suit in 2021, even more Houstonians can take part in the action.
Here are six ways to celebrate, honor, and pay tribute to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in and around Houston this year.
Traders Village, Houston
Taking place from November 13 to November 14, this bustling marketplace offers a little of everything: flavorful food, an incredible roster of vendors perfect for shopping, and family-friendly theme park rides. And if those aren’t enticing enough, then the 32nd Annual Native American Championship Pow Wow will most certainly catch your attention. Presented by Dallas-Fort Worth’s Inter-Tribal Association, this event promises dance contests featuring various tribal groups, musical performances, an arts and craft show, and several honoring ceremonies. To sweeten the deal, they’re giving away a $15,000 award to the winning dance troupe.
Founded by fellow Lipan Apache Chance L. Laundry, the nonprofit Southern Apache Museum spotlighted Native American culture in all its astonishing glory. The sanctuary originally opened in Houston’s Northwest Mall in 2012, but after five years in business, the institution closed its doors in response to the city’s plan to purchase and transform the site into a high-speed rail system.
Yet the setback didn’t deter the museum's mission. They quickly pivoted to a virtual format, debuting the online Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center in late 2020. Similar to the original exhibition, the new experience explores Indigeneous culture through unique artifacts, impactful videos of public ceremonies, a library, health clinic, and more, all available with the click of a button.
Though Houston’s Museum of Natural Science reopened their doors for in-person attendance last summer, art connoisseurs can still relish in the Gordon Smith Collection’s lineup of wearable art, clothing, and accessories from the comfort of their homes. The renown digital showcase delves into the bounty of rare Native American artifacts and clothing visual artist Gordon Smith picked up along his travels.
Available to the public, the virtual gallery also doubles as a powerpoint presentation—and it’s a riveting one, to say the least. Each slide is brimming with photos of timeless artifacts and explanations as to how they were crafted, descriptive storytelling detailing how Smith came across each item, and the piece’s significance to Indigenous culture.
Armand Bayou Nature Center, Pasadena, TX
Whether you’re a member of the Akokisa tribe or simply interested in learning more about their rich heritage, the Armand Bayou’s October 10th Life Between Land & Water event is a fantastic start. The nature center occupies the land the Akokisa people once inhabited, so this year, they’re inviting guests to visualize how the tribe utilized the coast to survive via hands-on demonstrations. Everyone’s welcome to attend, with tickets ranging from $6 for folks aged 13 to 59, $4 for those aged four to twelve (plus over 60), and free admission for kids under three.
Spend a weekend at the oldest reservation in Texas
Lake Tombigbee Campground, Livingston, TX
Ever dreamed of renting a cabin at one of Texas’ three federally recognized Indigenous reservations? Lake Tombigbee Campground at the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s Cultural Center has you covered. The Alabama and Coushatta tribes are two separate groups, yet one afternoon spent in this serene campground, and visitors will undoubtedly wise up to the similarities between these factions’ shared hospitality and backstory.
Depending on how many guests you’re toting along, guests can get their hands on a small, cottage-style cabin for just $30 a night or upgrade to a spacious three-bedroom, three-bathroom rental for $55. For a complete change of scenery, reserve the ever-popular colorful teepee, accommodating up to six happy campers.
Support Houston-based Indigenous businesses
There’s no better way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day than putting your money where your mouth is and giving back to Indigenous-owned communities right here at home. Houston has always been a hotbed for commerce, and we’ve seen an influx of passion-projects transforming into bonafide businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Indigenous-owned shops like retailers Cloud Chief & Company, Ah-shi Beauty, and The Crow's Nest Art Gallery, among others, are all standout places to drop some cash in and around Houston, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and beyond.