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‘Tribal Tourism: Culture and Commerce’

WORLEY, Idaho – A popular mobile workshop at last year’s American Indian Tourism Conference was a train ride through areas of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains. Attendees of this year’s conference will have opportunities to attend mobile workshops through parts of the Lewis and Clark Trail and on a boat cruise through the Pacific Northwest’s oldest park.

The 10th annual conference will be held at the tribally owned Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel Sept. 29 – Oct. 1.

The conference will focus on “Tribal Tourism: Culture and Commerce,” a theme that lends itself to a number of issues that will be covered in workshops dealing with marketing, museums, architecture, communication, indigenous foods and more.

Featured speakers include Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians; Ann Nygard, the National Geographic Society’s associate director of general operations at the Center for Sustainable Destinations; and the Rev. Michael J. Oleksa, author, lecturer, priest and creator of the PBS series “Communicating Across Cultures.”

Garcia’s keynote address, “The Tradition of Business in Indian Country: The Culture of Success,” will be given Sept. 30, in the afternoon.

Photo courtesy HVS-Image Keepers Inc. Attendees boarded a train for the Smoky Mountain FAM Tour during the September 2007 American Indian Tourism Conference at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel in North Carolina. Mobile workshops have become a popular attraction of the conference, which is hosted by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. This year’s conference will be held at the Coeur D’Alene Tribe’s Casino Resort at Worley, Idaho, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1.

In addition to his role as NCAI president, Garcia has just completed his third term as governor of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico, where he was born and raised, and where he continues to serve his community.

Nygard served as executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, where she had boots on the ground with the Northeast Kingdom’s geotourism program. She has lived and worked in Finland, Sweden, the U.K. and Rwanda, creating sustainable business practices with small businesses and multinationals alike. Her address will focus on culture and the landscape, and the sustainability of both.

Oleksa began researching Native Alaskan history when he was invited to the Alutiq village of Old Harbor in 1970, and completed his doctoral dissertation in this field. He was later appointed to the faculty of Alaska Pacific University and has taught courses in cross-cultural communication and Alaska history for 35 years. His four-part PBS television series, “Communicating Across Cultures,” has been widely acclaimed.

The American Indian Tourism Conference is organized and co-hosted by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, a not-for-profit association of tribes, tribal businesses, policymakers and entrepreneurs from all over the United States that organized in 1999 to foster Native tourism.

“We’re working hard and all of us have been fully engrossed in the development of the conference,” said AIANTA spokeswoman Staci Eagle Elk. “We have some excellent speakers and we’ve increased the number of our breakout sessions and they’ll cover everything from diversity and how to communicate to developing a museum to Indian Tourism 101. We’re very excited about the conference.”

Pre-conference activities kick off Sept. 29 with golf at the Circling Raven Gold Club. The mobile workshops will also take place that day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and that evening the Coeur D’Alene Tribe will host an opening reception that will feature youth dancers and drummers who will set the stage for a traditional feast at the tribe’s marina on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

During the next three days, attendees will participate in an intense schedule of high-level presentations, workshops, breakout session, panel discussions, training and technical assistance, and extensive networking opportunities.

After an opening prayer Sept. 30, the conference will begin with a welcome from Karen Ballard, the administrator of the Idaho Division of Tourism Development, and an opening presentation on the state of Indian tourism by Janice Hirth and Camille Ferguson, AIANTA’s executive director and president, respectively.

The rest of the morning will be taken up with breakout sessions. Some of the sessions will cover capturing the tourist market from Canada and Japan, whose travelers have a track record of interest in cultural and heritage tourism; cultural influences in architectural planning and design of tribal resort destinations; building unity among American Indian travel organizations; sacred site protection; professional development; and environmental development solutions.

There are no statistics available on the tourism industry in Indian country, Eagle Elk said.

“This is one of the things we’re [AIANTA] going to be working on in the next year. There’s no formal way for data collection at this point in time,” she said, but one of the conference’s breakout sessions will address the issue.

Ron Erdman, deputy director and senior research analyst at the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, will present a workshop called “International Stats and Data Collection.” He will present current statistics from outbound visitor surveys on international visitor interests in tribal destinations. In addition, experts will present on developing domestic statistics and data on the American Indian travel and tourism industry.

Other presentations will deal with indigenous food, tribal intellectual property, modern-day storytellers, and the power of unity.

AIANTA’s annual conference is an educational and outreach event that features sessions for all levels of Indian tourism projects from tribes with developed programs to those just starting out. A full description of the conference agenda and registration forms are available at