Associated Press

AIANTA Pushing for Legislation to Give Tribes More Control of Native Tourism


The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) is planning several new initiatives in 2015, and near the top of that list is a renewed push for legislation called the NATIVE Act.

The NATIVE Act, or the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act, was created 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.” The act would, among other things, get federal agencies like the Departments of Commerce and Interior to consult with Indian tribes and the Native American community on their inclusion in Federal tourism activities.

“It’s up to the tribes if they want to participate or not,” AIANTA President Sherry L. Rupert told ICTMN. “But we need a push to help [it along].”

So far, the bill has been drafted out to Indian Country, and it has attracted support, most notably from US Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), as well as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and many Native organizations. Rupert also says that they’ve had great support from tribes, like the Nez Perce Tribe, and the BIA, but the act, which was introduced to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in June of 2014, has been a 12-year effort and pointed out that in order to get it passed, more tribes need to step up their support. “Organizationally, it’s been a long road,” Rupert said. “It comes down to mobilizing tribal communities, and have them go to their Congressional representatives to get them signed onto the act.”

Rupert said that another reason for the act’s slow traction is the resistance to “changing attitudes and perspectives about the [tourism] industry” within Indian Country. For example, some tribes have voiced their concern about tourists visiting sacred sites. What if they don’t know what things are off limits? Rupert says it’s important to take a managed approach to this.

RELATED: AIANTA to Host 16th Annual Tourism Conference in Marksville, Louisiana

“Each tribal community is at different levels of tourism,” Rupert said. In other words, some tribes think about how tourism’s economic impact will affect their communities, some think about it with a passing reference, and some don’t think about it at all. “You have to respect that,” Rupert said.President Sherry L. Rupert about to testify at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on "Economic Development: Encouraging Investment in Indian Country" (Facebook)But her hope is that tribes embrace the industry, especially if it’s bringing dollars into Indian Country. ICTMN reported, for instance, that Oklahoma’s tourism industry generated more than $7 billion in 2012, and a big draw to that state is Native heritage and culture. Tourist from all over the world come to visit Oklahoma to experience Native culture. Among other recognizable points of interest, like the Red Earth Museum and Center of the American Indian, the state is building a Native American Cultural Center in Oklahoma City. But that type of infrastructure is needed throughout Indian Country, Rupert argues. “I’ve seen so many times when I’m out to tribal nations in Nevada, but they don’t have the infrastructure. [It’s] hard to keep people there and for them to spend their dollars.”

According to the Department of Commerce, more than 70 million people from overseas were expected to visit the U.S. in 2014; and the numbers of visitors to Native American communities from overseas increased 46 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. These figures are why Rupert says tribal tourism is an “untapped resource.” “People are infatuated with American Indians,” Rupert said, noting that the top markets of international travelers to Indian Country come from China, the UK and Germany.

AIANTA has initiated a strong push into the German and Chinese markets. Last year, AIANTA members joined ITB Berlin as vendors, displaying a special exhibit to help educate and introduce Native culture to communities in that country.

But also in 2014, enthusiasts in Germany re-enacted their interpretation of Native culture, and it didn’t sit well with some Natives (Red Haircrow attended a Winter Pow-wow 2014 put on by German enthusiasts and wrote that, for example, there was Native misappropriation, and unacceptable drumming practices). Rupert, however, explained that awareness through education can help correct these kinds of inaccuracies, “Having a presence at ITB and giving an accurate depiction [to the German community] is a step in the right direction.”

RELATED: A Star Trek Convention for Native Enthusiasts: Inside a German Pow Wow

RELATED: Naked Faux Savages and Neo-Racism in Berlin

AIANTA also hopes to surge in Indian Country with its growing list of upcoming projects (some ongoing): provide annual tourism conferences (the AIANTA tourism conference is in Colorado, Sept. 13-17, 2015); implement a destination travel website to help tribes import travel information; host tribal tourism training and certificate programs; continue to facilitate its Route 66 and Watchtower expansion projects in partnership with the National Park Service; and in general, integrate the Native American experience further into the US travel industry.

RELATED: AIANTA and Route 66 to Launch Landmark Project in New Mexico

Rupert said that she’s looking forward to “more of the same” this year, but she also wants to accelerate the tracks to tourism in Indian Country. “[It’s important to] create those connections between the Federal government, National Park Service and the tribes.”


You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



redhaircrow's picture
Submitted by redhaircrow on
In that particular article I was speaking about a specific group, German "Indian hobbyists" of the type who think they know everything about natives because they've studied and read books, and absolutely do not want to be corrected nor accept any suggestion they are (mis)appropriating native culture for their own entertainment or "enlightenment." I regularly assist with groups or individuals here in Germany who are seeking knowledge or collaboration in order to present accurate and appropriate native knowledge to others. They are often informed, respectful and open to discussion, so there is not like there is no educating going on. I also work in concert with the Native American Association of Germany, which is comprised of both natives and Germans towards the same endeavor. So, there are very different elements here, and in some ways it is complex and stratified, but suggesting there is just a lack of education so inaccuracies don't happen is patently incorrect. Some just don't want to listen, so those like myself instead focus on those who do, such as the workshops I speak at in November 2014, at the Indigenous Film Festival Days in Rostock, Germany, where an intercultural organization presented indigenous films by indigenous filmmakers, and asked for clarity on how to defeat and educate on native stereotyping in film. Native education efforts are on-going here, but we really get press.

redhaircrow's picture
Submitted by redhaircrow on
Correction, we RARELY get press.... or any recognition. The fact is, Rupert and others can speak at ITB conferences, etc. and in 2014 I was a liasion for two attendees here in Berlin. Without fail such conferences can educate those attending, but those type of endeavors rarely get to the people those like myself encounter every day, whether it is when we attempt to reeducate or educate in schools, activity groups, local workshops, etc. Natives along with informed non-natives have actively been seeking to educate here for over sixty years, and native culture doesn't have to be "introduced", as it has an absolutely huge following anyway across social and economic levels. It is not just as simple as others who've not lived and worked here extensively try to present.