Did you know that tourism supports more than 8.1 million jobs in the United States?

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that one out of every 18 Americans is employed by travel and tourism related businesses – most of which are small firms.

In 2012, President Obama launched the National Travel and Tourism Strategy, charting a new course toward making America a more attractive and accessible destination than ever before. The Strategy sets a goal of drawing 100 million international visitors by 2021, which is expected to generate $250 billion annually in visitor spending by 2012. The strategy also encourages more Americans to travel within the United States. In 2013, international visitors spend $180.7 billion dollars on U.S. travel and tourism related goods and services.

How can Indian Country benefit from this booming industry? 

As Indian gaming began to boom, gaming tribes began to think about how to draw their customers to their facilities. Soon magnificent facilities like the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Buffalo Thunder Resort sprang up.  At the same time, a small tribal organization with a mission “to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values” was steadily growing.  Today, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Organization (“AIANTA”) is flourishing.

This week AIANTA was in D.C. in support of H.R. 3477, a bill “To enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States. ”  This bill would authorize a MOU between AIANTA and the Department of Interior in consultation with the Department of Commerce to provide technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations to participate fully in the tourism industry.

H.R. 3477 requires the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce to update their respective management plans and tourism initiatives to include a Native American Tourism Plan.  The Native American Tourism Plans are to do the following:

(1) IN GENERAL.—The plans shall outline policy proposals—

(A) to improve travel and tourism data collection and analysis;

(B) to increase the integration, alignment, and utility of public records, publications, and Web sites maintained by Federal agencies;

(C) to create a better user experience for domestic travelers and international visitors;

(D) to align Federal agency Web sites and publications;

(E) to support national tourism goals;

(F) to identify agency programs that could be used to support tourism capacity building and help sustain tourism infrastructure in Native American communities;

(G) to develop innovative visitor portals for parks, landmarks, heritage and cultural sites, and assets that showcase and respect the diversity of the indigenous peoples of the United States;

(H) to share local Native American heritage through the development of bilingual interpretive and directional signage that could include or incorporate English and the local Native American language or languages; and

(I) to improve access to transportation programs related to Native American community capacity building for tourism and trade, including transportation planning for programs related to visitor enhancement and safety.

If you or your tribe is interested in this legislation or want to learn more, you can contact the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.  A link to the hearing on H.R. 3744 is here.

Tell our own story and protect our sacred sites.

For two hundred years, American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian history has been told by the “conquerors” and not by us.  Tourism gives us the opportunity to tell our own story in our own words in our own places.  The Desert View Tribal Heritage Project is a great example of this.  Groups including AIANTA  and the Grand Canyon’s ItAC, established in 2013, composed of representatives from the park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai-Apache, and five bands of Southern Paiute represented by the Kaibab Paiute) collaborate with the NPS on issues that affect each of the tribes and the park including working on programs such as youth development, tribal tourism opportunities, and cultural demonstrations. Today, Desert View represents the physical and cultural gateway from Grand Canyon National Park to the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

A signature project for next year’s National Park Service Centennial, the revival of Desert View as a cultural heritage site will provide opportunities for the public to connect with Grand Canyon’s Traditionally Associated Tribes. This transformation also ensures that future generations of tribal members and visitors will have an opportunity to make and share meaningful experiences and stories. “This project re-envisions how visitors experience Desert View and the entire park and will lead us and the NPS into the next century. We are grateful for the support of ArtPlace America and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the hard work of our Inter-tribal Advisory Council,” said Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.

This is just an example of what can be accomplished for the benefit not only of Native People but those tourists who would like to learn more about us and the places we live.  I know that there is some hesitation about inviting non-Native people into our homelands but there are ways to do it that keep our communities safe while participating in a booming industry in a culturally appropriate way.  Done right, tourism can be not only an economic development opportunity but an education opportunity and a means to protecting our cultural resources.  Big thanks to AIANTA for leading the way!

With Respect,
Lael