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A new view of tourism in Indian country

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RAPID CITY, S.D. - The first tourists, Lewis and Clark, created a problem for the locals after they left but the next round of tourists 200 years later will be looked at a little differently.

Life for American Indians changed drastically in the Great Plains and Northwest regions after the Lewis and Clark expedition swept through and opened the territory to fur traders, explorers, settlers and miners. Today the tribes of the Great Plains are ready for the tourists and welcome the potential infusion of money.

Tourists from Europe and North America will attempt to retrace the expedition's steps and will find the descendants of the people who first welcomed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the entire expedition force.

Control of cultural secrets as well as locations of sacred and burial sites will be kept closer to the vest than 200 years ago. At a recent tribal tourism conference here, the discussion centered on what protocol and educational means would be used to protect the spirituality, sacred sites and art.

"Lewis and Clark were not very good tourists, they brought devastation," said Charmaine White Face, director of Defenders of the Black Hills. She spoke to a gathering of the Association of Tribal Tourism Advocates.

"We need to teach tourists respect. If we want them to come, how will we teach them," she asked.

White Face said the sacred and cultural sites needed to be protected, and many of them are on private land. She suggested that an IRS regulation could allow for cultural set aside of land in exchange for a tax break.

But saving sacred sites is just the beginning. Many tourists come to Indian country today to learn about ceremonies. They are charged for an experience in a sweat lodge, to participate in Sun Dance and other ceremonies that are normally not open to people other than American Indians.

The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial will bring more people from Europe, specifically Germany, France and England where some people already act out their American Indian fantasies on weekends by dressing up and learning the Lakota language, tourist advocates said.

"There is a knee jerk reaction to rush to market what we have without putting together a basic structure. Create an arm of education, we must have education as a component," said Ed Hall, tourism and economic development representative from the BIA.

He said structure is needed for people to build on and know what intellectual and property rights are. If people are given an explanation of rights, tourists will have a pleasant experience, he said. What is right or wrong on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona may not apply on Pine Ridge.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said he experienced how the pueblos in New Mexico managed to maintain a tourist industry while controlling the culture. "The southwest capitalizes on tourism. We have a lack of education on this."

The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial will be a great opportunity for the tribes to tell their side of the story, and to also make contact with other cultures. "Tell the story, not just what happened at the time, but what has happened since," Hall said.

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"Europeans and others want you to dance. Don't be a poster child for others, have a purpose. Be prepared, have everything in place. Show the tribal leadership what they need to do within their boundaries," he said.

State and community organizations will attempt to attract tourists and use the image of Native Americans to do so. The tribes located along the Missouri River have plans for events, tours and educational programs for the tourists.

A central location for all tribal activities throughout the bicentennial will be called the Oceti Sakowin, or seven council fires. The site will be designed to offer educational information and protocol for tourists that want to travel onto the reservations. All reservations in the state, whether on the river or not will offer special events, arts and educational projects for visitors.

Tribal tourist advocates and entrepreneurs, and tribes are in the throws of planning and yet are still agonizing over how much of the culture to reveal.

Partnerships are forming with communities and states so that all parties can benefit from the influx of money that is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

One of the problems groups discovered is the fact that communities and states want to work with the tribes, but want the tribes to conform to the state and community demands. Funding is in jeopardy.

"We can do it our way and still work with partnerships. We must take the initiative to be creative," said Daphne Richards-Cook, executive director of the Association of Tribal Tourism Advocates.

"We need teamwork to inspire each other. We need a protocol and need to talk to the elders about stories," she said.

The resources at the various reservations' finger tips are land base usage, art, music, dance, stories, historic sites and more, but tribal tourism advocates warn people to learn how to expose tourists to those resources without giving away too much or having things actually looted.

In North and South Dakota the second largest industry is tourism. Local communities and the states have been in the business for decades, but the reservations, tribal governments and private individuals have not yet taken step to enter the industry.

In the past, South Dakota's tourism department has all but ignored the tribes during its annual gathering in January. Some tribal tourism advocates claim the state actually deterred people from traveling to the reservations.

Gov. Mike Rounds, elected in November 2002, merged the tribal relations office, the department of tourism and economic development offices together. ATTA representatives said they hold out more hope that things are changing for the better in tourism.

ATTA acts as an educational and advocacy organization with the goals of maintaining cultural integrity while acknowledging the sovereignty of tribes; to preserve sites, artifacts, ceremonies and keep the integrity of American Indian created art works. The organization can provide tools for tribes and individuals that lead toward a sustainable tourism industry.

ATTA works with chambers of commerce and the states throughout the region. For more information on ATTA, visit