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On September 17-20, 2018, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) hosted their 20th annual conference. Native Nation Institute's (NNI) Executive Director, Joan Timeche (Hopi), an AIANTA founding member and the organization's first President, delivered one of this year's keynote speeches. AIANTA is dedicated to advancing Indigenous tourism across the United States and serves as a strong voice and valuable resource for tribes and tribal organizations engaged in the tourism industry.
Timeche's keynote brought participants through AIANTA's foundational years and into the present. She spoke about the organization’s seed dreams to put tourism in the hands of Native nations, an exercise of practical sovereignty. According to Timeche, "in the 1990s tribal nations had to be on the defense when it came to tourism. Tourists were going to come whether we wanted them or not so we needed to set up controls. AIANTA was designed to assist tribal communities and regional organizations establish the infrastructure to attract, support, and keep tourists on reservations, and thus reduce economic leakage.”
Rebuilding a viable tribal economy is hard work. NNI’s research has found that when tribal communities take control of their own destinies, build institutional support systems to govern well, have governing institutions that match community beliefs, make decisions based on long-term priorities, and support public-spirited leadership, they significantly increase their chances of sustained development. In 1998, Lorentino Lalio (Zuni) of the New Mexico Tourism Office, was instrumental in calling for the first meeting of Native nations and regional Indian tourism organizations at the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association's 5th Annual Southwest American Indian Tourism Conference, a state-wide organization of which Timeche served as a co-founder. The need for building inter-tribal alliances and a nationally focused organization was cemented during this gathering, and AIANTA was formed; the fundamental mission of practical sovereignty as it relates to tourism and community development has not changed since then. While NNI’s governance work does not directly address tourism, NNI sees AIANTA as a natural partner as an important self-determination resource for community and economic development.
Images: Panel discussion (top), AIANTA's current Board President Sherry L. Rupert and the organization's first Board President Joan Timeche
Image credits: AIANTA