Responsible Travel - Fair Trade Tribal Travel
Our policy is “Mitakuye Oyasin” – the final phrase in Lakota prayer which translates to: “We are all related in the Circle of Life – the two-legged, four legged, winged, and all living and growing things upon the Earth.”
Everyone can enjoy Indian Country at their own pace within our small group tour structure, and we adhere to the principles of sustainable tourism, exploiting no-one and neither impacting on homelands.
We work closely with many organizations and individuals who like us, walk lightly on this earth. In a profit-crazy trade where ‘eco-tours’ can become a marketing buzzword used as a sales ploy, the concepts of sustainable and responsible tribal tourism become increasingly important to us.
We respect tribal cultures, lifeways and the natural world and feel a deep responsibility towards our hosts and destinations, and by imparting good information to our tour members we encourage them to have that same perspective.
Our environmental policy
Our waste policy is encapsulated in our UK office practices where we are able to run a virtually paperless office, scanning and emailing to pass information / messages. Other than the production of a modest brochure on recycled paper, our booking process can be completed with just one piece of paper. We use recycled and environmentally friendly products in every instance possible.
We offer information and suggestions about reducing water use to all tour members in their travel packs. Additionally we will bring the drought warnings which are posted everywhere in the Western US states to the attention of tour members, discussing the impact of drought particularly on tribal cultures.
Minimizing environmental damage and protecting wildlife is an integral part of our own lifestyle which naturally spills into our guided tours – we discuss the requirements and local laws in our travel packs.
Where possible we will offer visits to, and information about local environmentally conscious projects. On some Indian reservations wind power is becoming an interest, but environmental projects are not always in place – and they simply don’t get prioritized by tribal Governments in the face of third-world poverty – so we promise to help our tour members to understand social conditions. We find that many of our tour members even become involved in offering support to local projects on various levels.
We will rarely take a group of more than 12-15 people, and usually take less than that, to minimize negative social and environmental impact. Reservations will not feel that their social conditions are a cause of curiosity, or that they have been invaded by a disrespectful gang of sight-seers
We crave vehicles with better fuel consumption, but are presently stuck with the standards that vehicle manufacturers provide. So we undertake to research and use the best environmental option for any job. Such is our depth of feeling on this issue that, when possible, on some reservations we use an alternative mode of transportation – horseback!
Our economic policy
Our policy is to stay in tribally owned and run hotels/motels where possible. Where this option is not available we will use independent suppliers, or locally franchised operations.
We ensure that our tour members have the opportunity to buy arts and crafts directly from Native artists in the Indigenous community: the Indian arts and crafts market is flooded with fake sweat-shop jewellery, beadwork etc. that is mass produced and not Indian made, and this erodes one of the only financial lifelines available to many Native communities on reservations, so we are dedicated to creating opportunities for people to meet and buy from the artists themselves. Not only is this good economically for the individual artists and wider community, it is great for our tour members, as Indian art reflects Indian culture, and our guests truly get an intimate look into Indian culture when they interact with the artists.
We use only indigenous guides, and this is not because of the ‘Indian Preference in Employment' Act – it’s because local tribal people should have the opportunity to define themselves and their own cultures. We aim to work with guides and tribal representatives in on-going relationships year on year and some have guided our groups since our very first tour 10 years ago.
All guides receive above ‘fair’ wages for their work with us in recognition that with little infrastructure in their communities, families are often dependent on seasonal work for a year’s earnings. While tour members can choose their travel in a convenient time period, guides are less fortunate in choosing when to work.
So, from staying in tribally owned accommodation, all the way through to ensuring that where possible we fill our vehicles with gasoline from stations on the reservation, we contribute to the local tribal economy.
Our social policy
Most of our tour members are aware of US political situations through extensive media coverage, but usually are unaware that reservations are self governed, with sovereignty and the political scene is not the same at each of the several reservations they will visit. The complexities, derived from a historical background of government coercion mixed with language barriers, are many. We prepare tour members in brief before they arrive, but our guides explain in situ so that the realities and accuracy of the conditions can be handled with sensitivity and understanding.
Our company will always employ local tribal people and we have the longest list of indigenous guides employed by any company on this continent. Companies we work with also employ locals - often they have to! since the communities we visit are usually rural in the extreme - for example - Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is approx 90 miles from the nearest large town and is populated mainly by tribal members. Usually the 'Indian Preference in Employment Act is enforced, so the majority of
whatever jobs may exist are held by local people.
Most reservations suffer from poverty and the accompanying social ills, and the idea that all tribes have money-making casinos as the 'new buffalo' is simply trash. Our tour packets go some way to prepare tour members for what they will see, but again the real explanations are handled in situ for the same reasons of sensitivity and understanding.
We strongly discourage local people from changing their regular customs/habits for our groups - we don't want to disrupt our hosts, but moreover we feel that to experience real Native American communities as an invited visitor is far more valuable than some put-on version amended for tourist eyes.
We discuss cultural appropriation in our general info web page and also in our tour packs. We do not allow our tours, nor tour members to become embroiled in such situations, nor will we condone visitor's participation in Native American ceremonies for the protection of our guides who could be considered within their own communities to be selling ceremonies.
Although we do not need to use destination suppliers for our local guides since we have our own local guides, contacts and friends in all areas we visit, we make it policy to have community representatives involved everywhere we go.
Our tour members usually have a grasp of the human and cultural loss suffered by the indigenous population of the US before they arrive. The enormity of it usually hits them when they are here, and our groups’ social conscience sometimes leads them to provide ongoing support for the good people in the communities they visit. They don’t just fundraise for existing projects we take them to visit, they will create their own, and it is our company policy to help with these efforts - liaising, coordinating and generally overseeing where needed. An example of this is the provision of a computer by a Yorkshire school for kids on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in order to create an Internet exchange between the two school communities. This was initiated by one of our school teacher tour members, and we at Go Native America matched the gift so there will be a computer for both Lame Deer schools.
Go Native America understands that travel is one of the worst industries for creating carbon emissions, and when companies claim to be 'green and eco-friendly', from an insider's viewpoint we know that, by definition, they simply cannot be - it's impossible! But actually all companies have a great opportunity to soften their own impact on the environment - if they would only be honest enough to take that extra step and reduce and offset their carbon emissions through organisations such as NativeEnergy an excellent organisation which takes the contributions it receives and purchases carbon credits on behalf of the donating company, ie quantified reductions from renewable energy, energy efficiency, or reforestation projects.
Whomever you decide to travel with, please ask them how they deal with their carbon emissions.
If travel companies all took responsibility for their carbon debt it would make a world of difference.