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Tourism Benefits Tribes, Boosts Economies, Creates Jobs for Native Americans

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes millions of vacationers from at home and abroad

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americans, tourism, economies
This undated photo shows a Yavapai tour guide speaking with a group of visitors to the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Maricopa County, Arizona. Courtesy: AIANTA VOA

By: Cecily Hilleary

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes millions of vacationers from at home and abroad. Travel experts cite growing interest in Native American tourism, “authentic” cultural exchanges with tribes beyond gambling at tribal casinos.

Native tourism can be beneficial to tribes, boosting economies, creating jobs and allowing Native communities to control their own historic narratives. But tourism has its drawbacks, and some tribes have found that pleasing tourists while maintaining their cultural identity can be challenging.

americans, tourism, economies
This September 9, 2018 photo shows dancers at a pow wow, part of Indian Summer Festival, which takes place each year on the weekend after Labor Day in Milwaukee, Wi. Courtesy: AIANTA VOA

In 2016, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 1.95 million international tourists visited U.S. Indian reservations, supporting more than 44,000 jobs.

The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), a national organization that helps Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tribes and communities to advance tourism, projects the number of international visitors to U.S. reservations will rise to 2.4 million by 2020.

“People want to learn the real stories from the people who have lived them,” said AIANTA spokesperson Monica Poling. “So, rather than bringing in a non-Native tour guide to recount a history they don’t have an attachment to, our tribal members are involved in developing and crafting their own stories,” she said.

americans, tourism, economies
Memorial to the 1838 Trail of Tears at the Cherokee Heritage Centre in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. VOA

Some tribes, like the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, already have well-developed programs that include museums, cultural centers and guided tours to landmarks and historic sites. Cherokee National Day, an annual commemoration of the signing of the Cherokee’s Constitution in 1839, attracts as many as 100,000 visitors each year.

But others, particularly those located in poor, rural areas, are hard-pressed to meet tribe members’ needs, let alone build up tourism.

economies, tourism, americans
In a Friday, July 20, 2012, photo, from the left; Tricia Bear Eagle, Helen Red Feather, Rudell Bear Shirt and Edward Jealous Of Him, all of Wounded Knee, S.D., wait for tourists near the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservati. VOA

Ivan Sorbel, executive director of the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, has much to offer tourists: casinos, visitor centers, a heritage center dedicated to the arts, historic sites and incredible scenery.

“But we don’t have the infrastructure to support big numbers of visitors,” he said.“We have one motel and one casino hotel, but they offer limited beds and couldn’t accommodate large tour groups for overnight stays.”

Expanded tourism, he said, would also strain the reservation’s road system and water supply.

“But given the increasing interest in Native travel, we’re looking forward to growing this sector in the near future,” said Sorbel.

economies, americans, tourism
The landscape of the Badlands boasts a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires, with sedimentary rock layers exposed by eons of erosion. VOA

Contrived culture?

Tourism can sometimes have a negative impact on tribes. Some studies suggest that encounters between tribes and tourists may be too brief to significantly change non-Natives’ preconceived notions about American Indians.

Tribes may stage artificial culture by dressing up in inauthentic regalia, setting up tipis or passing off cheap souvenirs as “genuine” Native crafts.

economies, tourism, americans
A vendor wheels her cart of souvenirs before the start of the North American Indian Days parade on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont., Saturday, July 14, 2018. VOA

“If the best you can do is to dress up and show visitors what people looked like 200 years ago, to my way of thinking you have already failed,” said Sara Mathuin, the owner of Go Native America, who for 20 years has conducted small tours in Indian Country for international visitors and says she has “seen it all.”

Many tourists, in her experience, developed an interest in Native Americans through the “New Age” movement.

“They choose what elements of the culture they like and meld it all together to create a religion that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Native America.”

tourism, americans, economies
Dancers and a tipi at the European Rainbow Gathering in Bosnia, 2007. New age movements and Indian “hobbiests” have appropriated many elements of Native American cultures and spirituality. VOA

A good tour, said Mathuin, focuses on human similarities, not human differences. Tourists are less likely to appropriate from those they’ve gotten to know personally.

Tourists sometimes cross boundaries or fail to show respect for their host cultures — crashing religious ceremonies, for example, or picking up artifacts.

“I have friends on Pine Ridge who say (some European tourists) don’t even bother to knock on front doors,” said Mathuin. “They just open the front door and say, ‘Can I have a look around?’”

Tourists can also wreak havoc on the environment and strain water and energy supplies.

tourism, economies, americans
This undated photo provided by the U.S. National Park Service shows toilet paper strewn throughout Death Valley National Park, Calif. National parks across the United States are scrambling to clean up and repair damage caused by visitors and storms. VOA

Despite the potential drawbacks, Mathuin believes when done right, tourism can benefit tribes tremendously. And “doing it right” doesn’t require fancy facilities or play-acting.

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“All it requires are people and knowledge,” she said. “In the end, it’s all about the stories.” (VOA)

Cecily Hilleary is a journalist at Voice of America. Twitter: @CecilyHilleary

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Here are Some Tips For Solo Women Travellers

5 hacks for women solo traveller

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Women solo
Going solo is a way for many to unplug with more and more women taking solo trips. Pixabay

Going solo is a way for many to unplug with more and more women taking solo trips. If you, too, are planning your very first solo trip, here are a few useful tips to keep in mind shared by Rashmi Chadha, founder of Wovoyage, a women centric travel startup.

1. Destination matters: Prepare for the country you are travelling to

Read about the country or the city you are travelling to. Complete your research and prepare for your travel accordingly. This is the age of internet and you can read blogs or watch vlogs which can provide great knowledge about a particular place and help you plan a perfect trip. Download audio tour apps, Google translator and the country’s most useful travel applications.

2. Go Locale: Blend in, learn the local language, culture

It’s always better to gel with the locals as people become friendlier and you get a better experience. See if you can learn how to say some basic words like thank you, sorry, ask for water or directions, etc. in the local language which can help you connect with the locals and even find your way back to your hotel in some situations.

Learn how to blend in – it means dressing and speaking like a local whenever necessary, which can give you a chance to know the place more intimately and made the experience more wonderful.

Solo travel
If you’re a solo women traveller then you should complete your research and prepare for your travel accordingly. Pixabay

3. Be the early bird: Book in advance

Never land in a country without booking your stay. It gives you your first direction after stepping out of the airport. Even book your transfers from the airport to the hotel to avoid putting yourself in a stranded situation. Find the best solutions to get to your hotel from the airport online and book it.

Find and book your city tours online days before the date of travel. You might get better deals online than you will get on the spot.

4. Feel Empowered: Book local tours with female-run firms or women guides

Women are more comfortable with other women, it’s always safe, trustworthy and what will be better than women empowering each other. There are many women guides available in every city. Look for tours operated by female guides and book them beforehand. Look for homestays provided by women, sometimes you might get a chance to book tours provided by those homestays and get to experience the city in the best possible way like a local.

5. Prioritise safety: Women-only and women friendly accommodation

Besides travelling with precaution, where you stay during the vacation is pivotal to your safety. Women-only accommodations are an option and offer not only a safe ambience, but are also managed by an all-female workforce.

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There are women dorms in hostels that you can book or you can look for hotels that have a women-only floor. You can ask for special requirements while making a reservation and book the room according to your needs. Look for centrally located and accessible places that can solve your how to reach problems. (IANS)