The University of Arizona

Paths of Life: American Indians of the Southwest

Yaqui deer dance

"We believe that we are here now, that we have always been here, and that we will always be here.... We recognize that major changes occur, have occurred, will occur—that change is inevitable.

"We accept change, but only on our own terms, which means selective change, slow change, change that does not destroy our cultural fabric."

—Edmund Ladd, Zuni

The American Southwest is known as a region with a mix of many different peoples. Native American cultures flourished thousands of years before Spanish, Mexican, and European immigrants settled here. Today there are twenty-two different Indian nations in Arizona alone.

Each of the American Indian groups of the Southwest has its own unique culture and history—the "Path of Life" that its people follow. These paths have been shaped by the peoples’ views of their origins, their traditional values and beliefs, the landscape, historical events, their relations with the U.S. government, and their interactions with other peoples in the region.

This exhibition takes an innovative look at ten American Indian cultures of Arizona and northwest Mexico: the Seri, Tarahumara, Yaqui, O'odham, Colorado River Yumans, Southern Paiute, Pai, Apache, Hopi and Navajo. For each group, a theme of special cultural relevance is traced through three sections—Origins, History, and Life Today.

Life for Native Americans has changed rapidly in the past fifty years, as it has for all Americans. But, this does not mean that their cultures have died. As with any people, cultures are constantly changing in response to forces from without and within.

The Paths of Life exhibition is intended to increase understanding of the Indian cultures of the Southwest. Despite rapidly changing lifestyles, or perhaps because of them, traditional values remain an important force in the vitality of American Indian cultures.

The museum staff worked extensively with tribal representatives to design an exhibition that takes American Indians out of the history books and gives insight to their own cultural perspectives and values.

In the Museum

See, hear, and touch highlights of the Yaqui, O’odham, Apache, Navajo, and Hopi sections of the ground-breaking Paths of Life exhibition with knowledgeable guides. A full tour covers five culture groups and lasts 60 minutes, but can be customized to include two or three culture groups and shortened to 30 or 45 minutes upon request. While docent tours are geared toward adults, all ages are welcome.

Tours are free with paid admission.

Tour Schedule

Special Request tours are scheduled in advance online, and allow you to request and reserve the tour of your choice at a specific start time. Special Request tours are available for groups of four or more, and required for groups of 10 or more. See below for tour options and instructions.

Drop-in tours are the same as “Special Request” tours, but are provided on a first-come / first-served basis during regular docent shifts, Monday–Saturday afternoons October 1 through April 30. Drop-in tours start at 1 p.m. If the 1 p.m tours are full and there is enough demand, docents will be available to repeat tours or answer questions until 3 p.m. Ask at the front desk for drop-in tour availability when you visit ASM!

Use the online Special Request Tour Form to schedule a tour, or email Mackenzie Massman for more information. A minimum two-week advance notice is required to process Special Request tours.

All docent-led tours and activities are subject to change according to docent availability.


You can see the entire exhibit online, either in virtual reality format or in panoramic still images.

Find out more...
Educational resources about the exhibit for students, teachers and visitors.

Try the online version of:
Native Languages of ArizonaOpens in a new window

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