Native tourism destinations: 10 places to support with your vacation dollars | Lifestyles

KALLE BENALLIE Indian Country Today

The summer tourism season is in full swing for many because of COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions loosening domestically and internationally. And it appears high gas prices and increased inflation aren’t having an immediate effect on vacations.

The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates US travel and tourism could reach pre-pandemic levels of almost $2 trillion. The Department of Commerce estimated in 2019 the industry was worth $1.9 trillion.

And the first report to “formally track the economic impact of Native-owned hospitality businesses” showed in 2017 Native American tourism was a $14 billion industry.

The Economic Impact of Indigenous Tourism Businesses Report, released by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, in partnership with the Honolulu-based SMS Research, also showed one in four Native-owned businesses are directly or indirectly supported by the tourism industry.

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Note that the US remains in a COVID-19 pandemic and it is recommended to call ahead for any related restrictions.

Here are a few spots that are contributing to the Native tourism industry:

Cherokee Nation

Donna Tinnin, senior manager of museums and events for Cherokee Nation, said they are seeing more families traveling on day trips because of the cost of traveling increasing this year.

“We recommend starting at the Cherokee National History Museum to get an overview of Cherokee history through the present day. From there, you can explore the new outdoor art installation on the cultural pathway that provides safe passage to the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Prison Museum. The pathway also connects visitors to things like an arts center, a cafe and more,” Tinnin said.

The tribe is set to open the Anna Mitchell Cultural and Welcome Center in Vinita, Oklahoma — off the iconic Route 66 — late summer. It will have an exhibit gallery, gift shop, grab-and-go cafe, and a space for cultural classes and events.

Antelope Canyon

Located on the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park in northern Arizona, visitors can only see the breathtaking eroded canyon walls by mandatory tour guides. Visitors have increased in the millions compared to about 162,500 in 2008, according to the Navajo-Hopi Observer.

The park reopened after closing for a year due to the pandemic. It’s on “yellow status” meaning maximum occupancy is allowed to 75 percent.

Some of the tour guides are: Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours, Tsebighanilini Tours and Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours.

Flathead Lake and the Wild Buffalo Rapids

The Flathead Lake and the Wild Buffalo Rapids are located in Montana on the Flathead Reservation, home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreilles tribes – also known as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation.

Visitors can explore the areas from the Flathead Raft Company, owned by Tammy Fragua, a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Native-owned coffee shop

Andrea Martinez, Walker River Paiute Tribe, is the owner of the coffee shop Next Evolution in Schurz, Nevada – located in the Walker River Indian Reservation. They provide plant-based food, drinks and healthy coffee options.

She said they have seen “a definite increase in the travelers who come by our shop” this tourist season.

On Next Evolution’s website she said she wanted to “create a space for our community and travelers to come find rest and healing. Foods that come from the earth have always been a staple for our culture as Native American people, it’s time to reconnect with our ways of being one with the earth and use foods as a way to heal and thrive.”

Wind River Reservation

In 2021, two Wyoming national parks reached an all-time high number of visitors in a year. Yellowstone had 4.8 million visitors and Grand Teton had 3.8 million visitors.

The nearby Wind River Reservation offers self-guided mobile audio driving tours that explore the home of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

A group of Fort Washakie High School students helped create narratives for 10 significant locations of the Eastern Shoshone people.

Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum

The museum — located in Carson City, Nevada — is dedicated to the first children and families from the Great Basin tribes who experienced the effects of the Stewart Indian School when it opened in 1890. It closed 90 years later in 1980.

“This museum is not a museum in the Western sense, but a gathering place for Stewart alumni and their families,” the website states.

Native American Scenic Byway

The 350-mile route takes travelers through South Dakota; the lands of the Yankton Sioux, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes.

Along the five and a half hour journey, visitors can see numerous museums, monuments and sacred sites.

Some of them include: the Dakota Territorial Museum, South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, Randall Creek State Recreation Area, the Karl E. Mundt National Wildlife Refuge, the 50-foot-tall statue called Dignity: of Earth and Sky and Sitting Bull Monument.

Choctaw Cultural Center

The center is celebrating their first anniversary in Calera, Oklahoma on July 23. More than a decade of research and work went into helping create the center, Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation said in a press release.

The celebration will begin at 10 am, and will have an art market, a chocolate making class, children’s and cultural activities and a photo booth.

Monument Valley

The Navajo Tribal Park offers a 17-mile loop road for travelers that is “first come, first served.” It reopened last year after closures due to the pandemic. It’s on “yellow status” meaning maximum occupancy is allowed to 75 percent.

There are multiple Monument Valley guided tours, horse trail rides and San Juan River tours.

National Native American Veterans Memorial

The memorial is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. and opened Nov. 11, 2020. It pays tribute to Native veterans for their service in the US military.

It’s projected that 20 million domestic visitors will visit Washington DC, which is about 87 percent of the pre-pandemic levels, according to Axios.

The memorial is available 24 hours a day.

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