13 JUN 2018: With experiential travel leading the list of current tourism trends, there may be no better time for travellers to tune into opportunities offered by North America’s native peoples.  

From sleeping in a Navajo hogan (dwelling) to viewing bears on Kodiak Island in Alaska, experiencing the pageantry of an authentic tribal powwow, or even staying in a native-owned luxury resort, there are thousands of experiences available that enable to visitors to discover or connect with “the landscapes, histories, cultures, art and people of the USA’s Indian Country.”

And to help find them, at least south of the border (and in Alaska), the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is urging consumers and the travel trade to visit NativeAmerica.travel, a web site launched in 2015, but which is steadily growing as more and more people seek out authentic experiences curated by indigenous stakeholders.

“A visit to Indian Country offers authentic experiences and a chance to learn the history of the land and its inhabitants from those who live it, who grew up with it, and who learned it from the generations that came before them,” says The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), which runs the site.

“It’s a really helpful starting point if customers want to have a native experience,” the BIA’s Rachel Cromer told Travel Industry Today at the recent IPW travel trade show in Denver. It’s also a valuable tool that enables tribes to “tell their own story,” she adds.

The website can be searched by experience, destination and itinerary, and lists a page for each of America’s 573 tribes; and it should be noted that Hawaii is also represented.

The Experiences section of the website offers authentic trip ideas unique to Indian Country while an interactive map helps users identify native experiences by region and type of attraction or accommodation. To assist travellers in planning their visit, NativeAmerica.travel also lists American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian attractions, activities and lodging information, as well as travel tips.

More than 160 accommodations and attractions, as well as 30 tribal listings, are featured.

“Promoting Native America as a whole to travel consumers gives us the unique opportunity to share the multitude of destinations and diversity within American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian cultures. This website is an exciting step in educating the world that there are unparalleled travel experiences to be had through the varied and vibrant communities that make up an authentic Native America,” says AIANTA executive director Camille Ferguson.

Cromer says the most popular (and developed) of the 12 designated Indian Country regions for visitors is the southwestern US, which according to the web site is “dense with tribe populations and culture.” And while specific native-oriented sites include the likes of The Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado – “home to one of the most recognized Indian sites in the country: the settlements of Ancestral Puebloans on mesa tops and inside canyon alcoves” – it also boasts the Grand Canyon, which can be seen and discovered through a native lens, such as by horseback tour.

But as valuable as the site is in, “sharing the unique experiences available to travellers throughout Indian Country,” the site is a lynchpin in the non-profit AIANTA’s goal of “representing, supporting and expanding tribal tourism in the United States” and at the same time perpetuating “their unique cultures while diversifying and growing their economies.”

In other words, it’s win-win for both visitors and the communities that host them.

While the site does not include offerings in Canada, Cromer says the BIA does have partnerships with Canadian indigenous organizations to help further the prospects of First Nations tourism and economic development.

Note: The term “Indian” – as opposed to native, indigenous or First Nations – is considered less offensive in the US and is used in this story only in an official capacity.

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