Did you know that 14 out of today’s 20 top tourist countries are developing nations?
And did you know that almost 30% of the world’s untouched landscapes have been lost in recent decades - literally trampled underfoot by eager tourists? Ethical tourism is an attempt to reduce the impact your vacation has on the environment, locals and community you visit, This means paying specific attention to the way you act towards the locals and customs of the country, the way you spend your money, the hotel you stay in, the amount of water you use, and the methods of transport you use.
When you visit reservations across the US you are witnessing remarkable survival, And often you are walking some of the poorest areas in the United States, learning from Peoples who have suffered the detrimental effects of rights abuses, loss of traditional land, discrimination and harmful federal policies, both in the past and the present.
The situation for Native communities in the US is unique in that third world communities are surviving amidst first world communities.
Part of the issue of poverty for Native American peoples is the cost of living within isolated reservation communities with incredibly high unemployment rates - sometimes above 85%, yet having to meet often higher than mainstream costs of living for commodities such as gas, fuel, food etc. Did you know, for example, that gas prices on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation are the highest in Montana? So tourism, which costs money to develop, is not always the first priority of any struggling tribal government. But there is hope! The World Tourism Organization estimates that 20 per cent of global tourism today is ethical tourism and its growing three times as fast as the industry as a whole.
So, how can you be an ethical tourist in Native America? Here are some ethical ideas to get you started:
Be careful where you go.
We aren’t just talking about the walk softly policy that all tourism vendors should make their clients aware of, and it isn’t just about keeping away from rattlesnakes or buffalo for your own safety.
Did you ever think you would hear a Native American tour company say they won’t take you to Crazy Horse Mountain? But do you know who Crazy Horse was as a person? Do you know he died trying to save the sacred Black Hills for his Lakota people? Do you know what the Elders feel about a sacred mountain being blasted with dynamite, and do you know who owns the mountain, or where the profits go?
Find out the reasons we don’t go there before you assess the worth of ethical principles in Native American Tourism and then decide who to travel with.
So the hotel gift store sells dream catcher earrings for $7 and the Lakota guy on the roadside wanted $15.
What do you do?
Take the precious opportunity to buy arts and crafts directly from Native artists in the Indigenous community; 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 receive an intimate window on Native culture when they interact with the artists.
The $7 version is probably from China anyways. And a good rule of thumb is to estimate how many hours it would take a local artisan to make the item you have fallen in love with, then multiply that by minimum wage rates. We bet it doesn’t look expensive anymore
Native America holds a unique position in some areas of tourism development. Native tourism is so new, and you might think that it is ripe for development. But there are unexpected obstacles for some tribes. How so? While the Navajo, for example, have many sacred sites within their reservation lands, and therefore are able to pass tribal ordinances prohibiting non-Navajo guides from taking visitors to those places, other tribes had their lands confiscated by the creation of National or State Parks. This doesn't just mean that Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or many other places have been annexed from tribal jurisdiction, it also means some tribes have lost spiritual jurisdiction of what may be their most important and sacred places.
Think Bear Butte; Center of the Cheyenne Universe, where tourists relentlessly tramp the State Park trails throughout the ceremonial season.
Or Devil’s Tower, an ancient Sundance site and now modern-day mecca for rock-climbers where the carabina-toting late-comers now have rights to 11 months free usage, and the traditional users have only June for undisturbed ceremonial use (with the caveat that rock climbers are only asked to refrain from climbing… they still can, and do, if they wish).
So what to do?
You could go traveling with the attitude that you should experience everything and everywhere fully since you may not have opportunity to come back again.
Or could you gain satisfaction from visiting with personal restraint, viewing from a respectful vantage point to soak up the power and beauty of some of these sacred places?
People visit Native America for many personal reasons, and thanks to the growing New Age movement Native American ceremonies are front and center as a focus for some travelers.
Perpetual questions: Can I go in a sweat lodge, can I participate in a Sundance? Can I do a vision quest? And ironically folks often cite the desire to adhere to tradition and etiquette which leads them on their own personal Red Road.
Go Native America is not part of the tribal warrior societies that have the burden of ‘policing’ these kinds of ceremonial abrogation, and the arduous responsibility of stopping bogus ceremonies is not ours to shoulder. However in support of the wishes of Elders and ceremonial people across the continent, let’s be clear that no-one on an Go Native America journey will ever participate in ceremony of any kind as part of their tour with us.
Think of it like this: Meaningful, traditional and powerful ceremonies were given by the Creator to particular Peoples, and are their responsibility to conduct.
Ceremonies take time, understanding and long-term preparation.
They are NEVER a vacation activity.
Anyone who is telling you otherwise is not being fair to you, or to the indigenous people to whom the right and responsibility to fulfill those ceremonies was given.
Unfortunately there are some, even within indigenous communities, who will accommodate ceremony for outsiders and they have their own reasons (usually profit) for doing so.
But also consider this: ceremonies are powerful entities and although nobody goes into ceremony thinking they are not the right person to do this, many come out wondering.