Indian leader urges tribes to push native tourism

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A Native American leader from Nevada recently appointed to the U.S. Commerce Department’s national tourism advisory board says tribes need to learn more about how to tap into the interest travelers have shown in American Indian heritage and the culture and history of the West.

“There’s a segment of the market that’s really interested in a cultural experience,” Sherry Rupert, the executive director of the Nevada State Indian Commission, told the Nevada Appeal.

“That’s something we, as Native Americans, can offer. There’s nothing like it in the world. Our culture is intact, and our traditions are alive,” said Rupert, an American Indian of Paiute and Washoe descent.

U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank recently appointed Rupert as one of six new members of the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. She’s also the vice president of the Albuquerque-based American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, which nominated her for the post.

Blank said Rupert was an important addition in the interest of better diversifying the advisory board’s point of view. She’s the lone Native American on the board.

“These new members of the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, who come from different regions and industry sub-sectors, will play a valuable role as we work to help maintain the momentum that’s currently underway,” Blank said.

The tourism board was established in 2003 to serve as the advisory body to the secretary of commerce on matters relating to the travel and tourism industry in the U.S. Its members represent a cross-section of the industry, including transportation services, financial services, and hotels and restaurants, as well as a mix of small and large firms.

“The travel and tourism industry is so important to our nation’s economy and important to many of our tribal communities,” Rupert said. “This opportunity is a huge step forward for Indian Country. Indian Country now has a seat at the table.”

Rupert said she’s pushing for increased attention to collecting data on the demographics, interests and habits of visitors to tribal lands, museums and other landmarks.

“I want to know who is traveling to the Native communities and what they are doing,” she said. She said that information should help tribal communities better understand what domestic and international travelers are looking for so they can better match their attractions and destinations.

“As Native people, this is our life,” she said. “It’s just how we live. Sometimes, we think others won’t be interested.”

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