Selling tourism on indigenous sacred land – what can we do?
Selling tourism on indigenous sacred land, burial grounds, holy mountains, sacred valleys, have you thought about that?
Since a very tender age, I’ve noticed a sensitivity towards the indigenous issues that I couldn’t explain or put into words. I came across the genocide and destruction of the native American people when I was 4 or 5 years old, through an old movie called “Apache woman“.
My mother still remembers my level of distress for the weeks that followed. My never ending desperate questionnaire for “why were white people killing the natives and why nobody stopped it?”, was a theme of conversation for many days. Weeks of mourning and tears followed.
That might sound as a bit exaggerated for such a young kid. But being a child who grew up in the nature, who firmly believed trees had a spirit and that fairies lived in forests… that could read the ground knowing who and when had passed or stepped into a specific place by the marks on the floor, whose sole of the feet were hardened by running around with no shoes on, feeling an overwhelming empathy for the ways of the original American people might not sound that odd anymore.
Where we now find paved roads, boutiques, cafés, suburban houses with white picket fences, there were trees, dense forests, prairies, entire villages, sacred grounds where sovereign nations and animals roamed freely. Out of 50 / 100 million, only 5.2 million native american people exist nowadays.
And then I found out about the Australian aboriginals, the Amazonian original inhabitants, the African tribes, the Inuit people… The stolen lands, the genocides, the rape of women and murdering of children, the forced “christianization”, the forced sterilization of thousands of indigenous women, the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the total loss of dignity and identity still going on nowadays, as I write this, and as you read it.
Selling tourism on indigenous sacred land
Beach hotels have displaced the fishing communities that once lined the coasts of Penang, Malaysia and Phuket, Thailand. A Mohawk uprising in Canada was triggered by plans to extend a golf course on to Mohawk burial grounds. Indigenous burial sites have been desecrated by resorts in Hawai’i and Bali. In the tropical jungles of the Amazon insensitive tourism operators have disrupted religious ceremonies.
In the Black Hills, the native Sioux work as low-wage laborers in a white-owned tourism industry that promotes their culture and lands.
What can we do to, instead of being intruders, be welcomed visitors, contribute directly to the well being of the native people, support the local economy through tourism and empower their legacy?
- We can investigate if there are indigenous family business that offer services in the local area before we visit. Search for local indigenous guides, homestays and other resources that contributes in a direct financial support for the local communities. Give preference to indigenous run businesses if you’re visiting their lands. Check out the resource section bellow for info.
- READ a lot before you visit your dream destination! Read what that specific sacred ground means to the local people. Try to find out if they’re strongly opposed to have strangers trespassing their stolen lands where religious and spiritual rituals are performed. If the answer is yes; consider not going.
- Follow the signs you find along the way. If it says: “Don’t touch”, “don’t climb”, then don’t. A sacred native place is not only an area where people perform sacred rituals, but also a place where their ancestors rest.
RAINBOW BRIDGE, USA
The rainbow bridge national park, is a Navajo sacred religious and spiritual site which has caused a cultural collision between the National Park Service and Native Americans. The local inhabitants claim the land is sacred and that tourists are disrespecting it, depriving the area from its sacred value, after years of governmental protection of the rights of tourists while discounting the tribes’ spiritual beliefs.
Tucked among the rugged, isolated canyons at the base of Navajo Mountain, Rainbow Bridge was known for centuries by the Native Americans who lived in the area. Ancestral Puebloan residents were followed much later by Paiute and Navajo groups. Several Paiute and Navajo families, in fact, still reside nearby.
For the Navajo, Rainbow Bridge is an integral part of their origin stories which tell of their emergence into this world. As with other Native American nations, oral traditions and spirituality are intimately connected to geography. The landscape is a part of the oral tradition, the spiritual heritage of the Navajo.
RUSHMORE MOUNT, USA
One of the most controversial sites; Mount Rushmore, a popular tourist attraction, is located in the Black Hills, which the Sioux tribes consider to be sacred and have territorial claims to based on an 1868 treaty which stated the lands to be Native territories forever..
Shortly after that treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the region, and the U.S. Congress eventually passed a law taking over the land. Many indigenous people have expressed their disgust and offense for this site, not only for the stolen land, but for the carving of the faces of the presidents responsible for the genocides along the centuries.
On an interview for the National Geographic, White Plume an Oglala Sioux elder expressed his feelings: “The leaders of the people who have broken every treaty with my people have their faces carved into our most holy place. Do you have an equivalent?”
The presidents represented on the face of the mountain the Sioux called Six Grandfathers had some terrible Indian policies, here are some highlights:
Lincoln was responsible for hanging the Dakota 38, the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. **
George Washington declared an all-out extermination against the Iroquois people in 1779. ***
Thomas Jefferson supported a policy of assimilation, and failing that, extermination of the Cherokee and the Creek. He said all Natives should be driven beyond the Mississippi or, “take up the hatchet” and “never lay it down until they are all exterminated.”
Theodore Roosevelt, who, shortly after being elected governor of New York, announced, “This continent had to be won. We need not waste our time in dealing with any sentimentalist who believes that, on account of any abstract principle, it would have been right to leave this continent to the domain, the hunting ground of squalid savages. It had to be taken by the white race.”
SAN FRANCISCO PEAKS, USA
The San Francisco Peaks, are an ancient sacred site and an integral part of the culture and identity of 13 local tribes in Arizona. This area has been a source of conflicts and the center of a legal battle for decades.
According to an article at the Cultural survilal Inc.: “At the heart of the current controversy is a plan by the United States Forest Service and its business lessee, the Arizona Snowbowl, to expand a ski area that presently exists on the site. The expansion would involve clear cutting 74 acres of rare alpine ecosystem, making snow using reclaimed wastewater, and building a 14.8-mile buried pipeline to pump reclaimed wastewater. It also calls for resurfacing the site to allow for the construction of a three-acre, 10-million-gallon holding pond of reclaimed wastewater and purchasing up to 50 snowmaking machines. These machines could operate 24 hours a day and be audible up to two miles away.”
ULURU (AYERS ROCK) AUSTRALIA
For Aboriginal people Uluru is a sacred site and should be off-limits for non-Indigenous visitors. Demands to close the only climb in respect to the rock’s significance have been made many times.
Unfortunately, for the more than 100.000 visitors, the plea to respect aboriginal sacred grounds hasn’t been heard. Climbing, partying, urinating and defecating in the area has been a serious issue for the local aboriginal communities.
ARTHUR-PIEMAN CONSERVATION AREA – TANSMANIA
Recreational and off-road vehicles used by tourists and locals can damage Aboriginal sites in conservation areas and national parks.
For example, the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area in Tasmania, described as “one of the world’s greatest archaeological regions” for its Aboriginal heritage, has been subjected to damage for many years.
Most if not all tracks in the area go over Aboriginal heritage sites. Attempts to close tracks to prevent damage failed because “people have pulled [barriers] out and gone around them” according to creativespirits.
SUPPORT NATIVE AMERICAN FAMILY BUSINESSES
If you want to explore a completely different version of the USA, exploring the “native American America” through the eyes and stories of the indigenous people will be an experience of a life time. Tourism can help empower local tribes, who have been impoverished and struggle with lack of opportunities. Make sure you choose local indigenous businesses instead of white owned corporations who use the natives as a source of cheap labor.
TRAVEL NATIVE AMERICA – This company is renowned for our commitment maintaining a team of all-indigenous, well-paid guides, offering highly ethical tours that respect the land, the wild life and the native nations.
AIANTA – American Indian Alaska native tourism – AIANTA is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit association of Native American tribes and tribal businesses, organized in 1999, to advance Indian Country tourism. The association is made up of member tribes from six regions: Eastern, Plains, Midwest, Southwest, Pacific and Alaska.
NATIVE AMERICAN TOURISM OF WISCONSIN – The mission of NATOW is to promote tourism featuring Native American heritage and culture. Tourism provides an excellent tactic for Tribes to diversify their economies, while telling the true story concerning their history and culture. NATOW is comprised of representatives from each Tribe, who converge bi-monthly to discuss its strategic tourism plan.
NAVAJO NATURAL PARKS – The Mission of the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department is to protect, preserve and manage tribal parks, monuments and recreation areas for the perpetual enjoyment and benefit of the Navajo Nation – the spectacular landscapes, buttes, canyons, clean air, diversity of plants and wildlife.
For a better understanding of the Native American situation along history and the struggles that haunt the many sovereign nations scattered across reservations, I’d strongly advise you to watch this documentary.
SUPPORT AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL BUSINESSES
BAMAWAY – The Bama Way links three Aboriginal-owned tours operated by the traditional custodians of the local area. Each tour provides a unique experience which will teach you about different facets of Aboriginal culture.
JANBAL GALLERY – Janbal Gallery is a 100 per cent Aboriginal owned and operated Aboriginal Art Gallery offering assorted art workshops for FITs and groups daily and is located in Mossman, Far North Queensland.
SHARKBAY COASTAL TOURS – Shark Bay Coastal Tours is an Aboriginal, family owned and operated specialist tour company offering unique, culturally inspired, four wheel drive adventure tours in the Shark Bay and Monkey Mia region.
BUNDY’S CULTURAL TOURS – Bundy operates his tours in Bardi Country, at the northern tip of the Dampier Peninsula. As a traditional custodian, Bundy lives a contemporary but traditional Aboriginal lifestyle and his culture is very much a part of his life. Bundy’s Cultural Tours provides an opportunity to meet with him and his family and share their traditional knowledge.
ECOtreasures – Gain an insight into Sydney’s Aboriginal culture and history on a walking tour with an Aboriginal guide. Discover middens and rock engravings, try your hand with the clapping sticks and learn about traditional native bush medicines and foods.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH ME. IF YOU HAVE CONTACTS OF NATIVE / ABORIGINAL BUSINESSES THAT WORK WITH TOURISM, LEAVE THE CONTACT BELLOW ON THE COMMENT SECTION.