Indigenous tourism on the rise nationwide

Indigenous tourism on the rise nationwide

You don't have to travel far in New Mexico to experience the culture of our Native American communities.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You don’t have to travel far in New Mexico to experience the culture of our Native American communities.

Indigenous tourism now makes up the largest services export industry in the U.S. as a whole.

Still, even walking around Old Town Albuquerque, you’ll have a hard time finding Native-owned businesses.

Sherry Rupert is the CEO of the Albuquerque-based American Indian/Alaskan Native Tourism Association. She says the goal of AIANTA is to empower more Native American and Indigenous business owners.

“These are our stories to tell and we need to be those storytellers. We are always encouraging destination marketing organizations to work with their tribal communities to build those relationships, and not just be a one-off and ask for a photo or a video,” Rupert said.

As the demand grows to travel to these communities, Rupert adds it’s vital for tourists to get an authentic experience. That’s why they want communities to lead the conversation.

“That’s what visitors are looking for is that authenticity. And there is no more authenticity than the Native peoples of this nation,” she stated.

The demand translates to big money. According to Rupert, Native communities contribute $15.7 billion to the U.S. economy – up from $14 billion in 2017.

Still, for anyone visiting Native/Indigenous lands, there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation – according to Mescalero Apache Tribe member Charles Meeks.

“There are a lot of stories in Indian nations. Some tribes and some areas, they want to tell a story. Some want to keep it private. When you respect that, there’s a lot of privacy, a lot of personal artifacts,” Meeks said.

Rupert says representation is key. That way, Native and Indigenous communities receive the recognition they deserve.

“The Pueblo people here are fierce about protecting their culture. And they don’t allow you to have phones and take videos while you’re out on their Plaza. And I just thought that was so amazing that they are setting the rules,” Rupert said.

Native and Indigenous communities from all across the U.S., including here in New Mexico, recently met in Albuquerque for a two-day conference. The goal was to promote tourism in those communities.