Travel

6 Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day in Houston

Show up and pay tribute to the region's vibrant Indigenous communities.

Flickr/enigmaarts
Flickr/enigmaarts
Flickr/enigmaarts

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.

UHCL Campus Activities Board
UHCL Campus Activities Board
UHCL Campus Activities Board

Get down at the 32nd Annual Native American Championship Pow Wow

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.

INVI LLC
INVI LLC
INVI LLC

Take a virtual tour of the Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center

Virtual
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.

Flickr/fossilmike
Flickr/fossilmike
Flickr/fossilmike

Browse the Museum of Natural Science’s Gordon Smith Collection

Virtual
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
Armand Bayou Nature Center
Armand Bayou Nature Center

Immerse yourself Gulf Coast history at the Armand Bayou Nature Center

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.

Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Lake Tombigbee Campground
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Lake Tombigbee Campground
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Lake Tombigbee Campground

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.

Cloud Chief & Co.
Cloud Chief & Co.
Cloud Chief & Co.

Support Houston-based Indigenous businesses

Virtual
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.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Adrianne Reece is a contributor to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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