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Native Americans are increasing efforts to gain a foothold in the tourism business, according to a report in the Albuquerque (N.M) Journal.
If American Indians don’t exploit this potential gold mine, someone else will do it for them, former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell told about 100 attendees at the debut conference on “Indian Tourism As a Business Opportunity” at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts.
The conference presented workshops on integrating native tourism with business to boost revenue.
“RVs are going up and people are traveling more, despite the price of gas, ” he said. “But the parks are going down because the land is getting too expensive.”
Campbell said on average, RV users spend 16 nights on the road per year and their owners earn an average of $65,000 annually. For a family of four, road trips are 75% cheaper than flying to a destination and staying in hotels.
“If you put together all the people in America who own an RV, it would be the fourth largest city in America,” Campbell said.
A California tribe recently signed national campground chain Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) to a contract to manage an RV park on tribal land, he added.
Tribes located near national landmarks such as Monument Valley, Bandelier National Monument and Mesa Verde could be natural fits for such partnerships, Campbell said. Tourism is non-polluting and kindles arts and crafts sales.
But it also comes with a downside: it’s seasonal, wages are low and it can fuel stereotyping “if the only time a tourist sees us is when we’re wearing the feathers,” he said.
Natives have long struggled with crossing the line between exploiting their culture and sharing it, Campbell said. Most refuse to participate in re-enactments at Montana’s Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. But Hardin, the town closest to the battlefield, is nearly half native, with 52% of these living at or below the poverty level.
“At what point do you say, ‘I shouldn’t be doing that?’ ” Campbell asked. “Indian people themselves are going to have to make that decision. And when is tourism too much? Should I take them out to see the shacks of the elders and eat some commodity cheese? I don’t think they want to do that.”
Nearly every town in the Southwest features some kind of native image in its brochure, Campbell said.
“Unfortunately, we are still not seeing what I consider a fair share of the tourism dollar,” he said.