The Heard Museum – A Treasure for All Ages

Photo Courtesy: Heard Museum

Photo Courtesy: Heard Museum

PHOENIX—The Heard Museum is a precious gem in the vast Sonora Desert; indeed, a treasure for the entire world. As soon as you enter its lovely courtyard, you see babes in arms, toddlers, adults herding school children, Grandmas and Grandpas and Greats.   The Heard invites us into the homes of Native people, people of all ages. For more than 80 years, the Heard has attracted millions of guests from around our globe, guests who discover an ancient people very much like them.

The many tribes of the Americas are celebrated with authentic artifacts and relics created and used by families every day; Debra Krol, a museum director says, “Our oldest exhibits feature findings from 900 to 1,000 A.D.”  Immediately, the power of this 40,000 piece collection is evident by the magnificent Spanish Colonial architecture and grounds of the beautiful building.

At first the permanent 7.6 million dollar presentation, we enter the lives of the Native Americans of the Southwest.  Each stunning exhibit shows us headdresses, masks, ceremonial artifacts, drums and other musical instruments, clothing, baskets, even foods used by the tribes.  Customs and behaviors of the Southwest Natives are appreciated when the physical evidence is presented to us; the concentration, creativity, diligence, patience, in each artifact is highlighted as we imagine the gifted human hands which crafted the artifacts.  The “We Are! Arizona’s First People” is ideal for pre-schoolers and students of all ages, with hands-on activities enforcing the experience.

93 years old and full of enthusiasm, Mrs. Frances Strait, a former high school teacher, says, “I have to experience the museum from a wheelchair. The facility of getting around is excellent. I can truly experience the museum with ease. I am happy to learn so much about the Southwest, and I know that days later, I will remain in awe.”

"Every Passion has Its Destiny," Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota), left, winning the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Photo courtesy of Billy Mills

“Every Passion has Its Destiny,” Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota), left, winning the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Photo courtesy of Billy Mills

Next, guests learn about “Beautiful Games, American Indian Sport and Art.”  The games the ancient people played are demonstrated in art, artifacts and videos.  American Indian champions in sports are celebrated, coming to the present youth who are excelling in high school, college, professional and Olympic sports today.  What an inspiration when Native Americans continue to excel with the talents the Creator has bestowed upon them.

The harsh realities of the conquering invaders are very real.  Any visitor to the “Remembering Our Indian School Days:  The Boarding School Experience” can experience the pain and agony families felt when their children were forcibly removed to distant schools.  The children’s cries are still heard today. Yet, even this hi story is multifaceted, because many boarding school students did use the training to return to their homes, to help their families and tribes.  “I was very impressed by the thoroughness of the boarding school exhibits,” said William A. Lan, a visitor from Michigan.  “It almost allows you to be among the children, see what they saw and feel what they felt.  I had already heard the story of the boarding schools, but the Heard really made that experience real for me.”

The permanent library is an astonishing resource to research what little has been recorded since 1492. The tribal experiences are not an afterthought, a fast review as it is in the larger society.  The efforts to preserve Native language are ongoing.

Mrs. Ann Larimer, a teacher from Indiana, says, “As a person with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, I was very pleased to read and learn from the exhibits that present day Native Languages are being kept alive and passed on to the latest generations. This is so important if the cultural identities of the Native tribes are going to be preserved, both for the Native people and for all Americans.”

In addition to these and other permanent exhibits, the Heard encourages Tribal youth in their cultural, literary and artistic development with changing displays featuring recent efforts by talented Native people.  There are also many events throughout the year, showcasing and teaching these skills.  Also, complicated and inspiring are the traditional tribal dance ceremonies featured throughout the year.  To learn more about this fascinating place, go to

The ancient and timeless tribes call Mother Earth their home; they had dreams and hopes for their families; the Heard Family had dreams and hopes to preserve and remember the ancient people.  Here we, too, are inspired to pursue hopes and dreams for our families, and for America, and, yes, for Mother Earth.

The Heard Museum is located at 2301 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona.

Open Hours

Monday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
First Fridays
(except March)
6 to 10 p.m.

Jessica  A. Rickert, D.D.S., is the first  American Indian female dentist; she is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.  A national speaker, she can be reached at


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