The Journey is Back: Indigenous Tourism Destinations

Kalle Benallie

The summer tourist season is in full swing for many due to COVID-19 vaccinations and the easing of national and international restrictions. And it seems high gas prices and rising inflation don’t have an immediate effect on the holidays.

The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that U.S. travel and tourism could reach pre-pandemic levels of nearly $2 trillion. The Department of Commerce estimated in 2019 that the industry was worth $1.9 trillion.

And the first report to “officially track the economic impact of Native-owned hospitality businesses” showed in 2017 that Native American tourism was a $14 billion industry.

Indigenous Tourism Business Economic Impact Report, published by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, in partnership with Honolulu-based SMS Research, also showed that one in four Native businesses are directly or indirectly supported by the tourism industry.

Note that the United States remains in a COVID-19 pandemic and it is recommended that you call ahead for any related restrictions.

Here are some places that contribute to the Indigenous tourism industry:

Cherokee Nation

Donna Tinnin, senior director of museums and events for Cherokee Nation, said she’s seeing more and more families traveling on day trips due to the rising cost of travel this year.

“We recommend starting with the Cherokee National History Museum to get an overview of Cherokee history to the present day. From there, you can explore the new outdoor art installation on the Culture Trail that provides safe passage to the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Jail Museum. The trail also connects visitors to things like an arts center, cafe and more,” Tinnin said.

The tribe is set to open the Anna Mitchell Cultural and Hospitality Center in Vinita, Oklahoma – off the iconic Route 66 – in late summer. It will have an exhibition gallery, gift shop, take-out cafe and space for classes and cultural events.

Antelope Canyon

Located in the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park in northern Arizona, visitors can only see the breathtakingly eroded canyon walls by mandatory tour guides. Visitors rose by the millions from around 162,500 in 2008, according to the Navajo-Hopi Observer.

The park has reopened after being closed for a year due to the pandemic. It is in “yellow state”, which means that the maximum occupancy is allowed at 75%.

Some of the tour guides are: Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours, Tours in Tsebighanilini and Adventurous excursions in the Antelope Canyon.

Flathead Lake and the Wild Buffalo Rapids

Flathead Lake and the Wild Buffalo Rapids are located in Montana on the Flathead Reservation, home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreilles Tribes – also known as the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation.

Visitors can explore areas of the Flathead Raft Companyowned by Tammy Fragua, citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.

Native owned cafe

Andrea Martinez of the Walker River Paiute Tribe owns Next Evolution Coffee in Schurz, Nevada, located on the Walker River Indian Reservation. They provide plant-based foods, beverages, and healthy coffee choices.

She said they have seen “a marked increase in the number of travelers coming to our store” this tourist season.

About NextEvolution website she said she wanted to “create a space for our community and travelers to come and find rest and healing. Foods that come from the land have always been a staple of our culture as Native American people, it’s time to reconnect with our ways of being one with the land and using food as a means of heal and thrive.

Wind River Reservation

In 2021, two national parks in Wyoming achieved record visitor numbers in a year. Yellowstone had 4.8 million visitors and Grand Teton 3.8 million visitors.

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The nearby Wind River Reservation offers self-guided mobile audio tours that explore the home of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

A group of students from Fort Washakie High School helped create stories for 10 important places of the Eastern Shoshone people.

Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum

The museum – located in Carson City, Nevada – is dedicated to the first children and families of the Great Basin tribes who suffered the effects of the Stewart Indian School when it opened in 1890. It closed 90 years later in 1980.

“This museum is not a museum in the western sense of the word, but a gathering place for former Stewart students and their families,” said the website states.

Native American Scenic Byway

The 350-mile route takes travelers through South Dakota; the lands of the Yankton Sioux, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes.

Along the five and a half hour journey, many museums, monuments and sacred sites can be visited.

Some of them include: Dakota Territorial Museum,South Dakota Cultural Heritage Centerthe Lewis and Clark Recreation Area​​ Randall Creek State Recreation Areathe Karl E. Mundt National Wildlife Refugethe 50 foot tall statue called Dignity: of Earth and Sky and the Sitting Bull Monument.

Sitting Bull Monument

Lakota family members exhumed what they believe to be Sitting Bull’s remains from Fort Yates, North Dakota, transporting them for reburial near Mobridge, South Dakota, his hometown. A monument has been erected to him.

Choctaw Cultural Center

The center celebrates its first anniversary in Calera, Oklahoma on July 23. It took more than a decade of research and work to help create the center, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said in a news release.

The celebration will begin at 10:00 a.m. and will include an art market, chocolate-making class, children’s and cultural activities, and a photo booth.

Monument Valley

The Navajo Tribal Park offers a 17-mile loop route for travelers on a first-come, first-served basis. It reopened last year after pandemic-related closures. It is in “yellow state”, which means that the maximum occupancy is allowed at 75%.

There are several guided Monument Valley tours, horseback riding tours, and San Juan River tours.

Navajo Land, Navajo Nation, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Utah, Four Corners Monument, Traditional Foods, San Juan River, Petroglyphs, Native American History, Native American Travel, Native American Travel Destinations, Sable Island, Comb Ridge, Cliff Dwellings, Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel, River House, Goosenecks State Park, Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears National Monument, Sacred Sites, Native American Sacred Sites, Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump Highway, Navajo Parks and Recreation, Rainbow Bridge National Monument

View of Monument Valley in Utah, looking south on US Route 163.

The National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC on Nov. 11, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

National Native American Veterans Memorial

The memorial is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. and opened November 11, 2020. It honors Indigenous veterans for their service in the United States military.

It is expected that 20 million domestic visitors will visit Washington DC, about 87% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Axios.

The memorial is accessible 24 hours a day.

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