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Patty Talahongva
Indian Country Today

FORT McDOWELL YAVAPAI NATION — Tourism is back for many in Indian Country and for Nez Perce Tourism, LLC, that means offering tours of its traditional homelands that cross five states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The family owned business offers an experience that is rich in Nimiipuu values and has earned them five star ratings from Google, Yelp and Facebook. They’ve also been featured in several national publications.

Nez Perce Tourism picked up the Best Cultural Heritage Experience at the annual Excellence in Tourism Industry Awards Gala and Silent Auction, hosted by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. The association held its annual conference this past week at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort near Phoenix.

Chief Executive Officer Sherry Rupert, Paiute/Washoe, said the conference was well attended by representatives from all 15 regions, plus Native Hawaiians.

A highlight at the conference was the release of a report showing that Indian tourism is a $14 billion industry.

“That’s a huge number for us,” Rupert said. “Before we didn’t even know really what the economic impact was. So, to be able to have that number is really important for us as we advocate locally, statewide and nationwide on behalf of tribal tourism.”

Daniel Nāhoʻopiʻi, Kanaka Maoli, led the study with his firm, SMS Research.

“I think everyone was excited for the $14 billion, you know that’s about the same amount that visitors to Oregon spend and Hawaiins about $17 billion annually,” he said.

“We’re using U.S. Census data, so we’re using U.S. government data to show our wealth and our worth,” Nāhoʻopiʻi continued.

“Industry Professional Award,” was Dawn Melvin, tribal tourism relations manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism, received the Industry Professional Award at the Excellence in Tourism Industry Awards Gala and Silent Auction, hosted by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation hosted the conference in late October 2021. (Photo by Patty Talahongva, Indian Country Today)

Taking home the “Industry Professional Award,” was Dawn Melvin, tribal tourism relations manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism. Melvin was recognized for her work with increasing tourism opportunities for tribes in Arizona, both nationally and internationally.

Leilah Young, the chief executive officer of Dixie’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours, accepted the award for “Excellence in Customer Service.” Besides being outstanding in her customer service, Young also gives back to her community in the form of providing scholarships, holding clothing drives and supporting community elders.

Leilah Young, the chief executive officer of Dixie’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours, accepted the award for Excellence in Customer Service at the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association conference. Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation hosted the conference in late October 2021. (Photo by Patty Talahongva, Indian Country Today)

Taking home the award for “Destination of the Year” went to the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. The museum tells the story of the Seneca and Haudenosaunee people through 10,000 objects on display, 5,000 photographs and thousands more of archeological materials. More than 15,000 visitors come from around the world to tour the museum.

Taking home the award for Destination of the Year went to the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum at the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association conference. Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation hosted the conference in late October 2021. (Photo by Patty Talahongva, Indian Country Today)

The annual conference will be held next year in San Diego. 

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