In the Native community, we sort of feel the same way about eco-tourism. We walk that fine line of navigating between the ideals of development (which would lead one to advocate rural tourism), and the ideals of cultural tradition and integrity (which might lead one to reject rural tourism). We share this ambivalence, but recognize that these two conflicting ideals are connected with the ongoing dynamics of cultures and communities with moral, political, economic and ecological forces historically at work. We might call these dynamics a cultural process, but one which requires sensitivity and discussion in order to develop sustainable tourism in rural Alaska only where it is truly desired within the community.
There is at present an acknowledged need for examining the impacts of cultural tourism on the social dynamics of rural communities in Alaska and similar indigenous communities elsewhere. Governor Knowles Marketing Alaska Tourism Sector Working Group acknowledges the need to assist rural communities in understanding the potential as well as the ramifications of tourism in their communities.
A recent publication on eco-tourism planning in Alaska states that similar analysis and planning are needed to ensure the eco-tourism is compatible with the way of life and cultural values of rural residents. Yet there is very little accessible, non-academic material that addresses the issue.Perhaps we can begin this dialogue today. We can start the discussion by defining eco-tourism. We would define it as being a cultural as well as a wilderness experience and we can identify two types of eco-tourism: Consumptive (hunting, fishing) Excursive or adventure (Hard, days/weeks rafting, kayaking or Soft, hour/half-day river trip) The cultural experience is generally the excursion type – a half to whole day.
Most adventures tend to be cultural – tours run by non-Natives for non-Native visitors.Natives are generally concerned about consumptive tourism, not eco-tourism as usually defined. There are three major areas of concern: Cultural Land leasing or crossing of Native lands (occurring mostly in Bristol Bay area, some in Ahtna and in Southeast Alaska.
At present, Bristol Bay has the most eco-tourism going on.) Wildlife There are four general categories of cultural tourism in Alaska (all of which are tribally or community owned): Mature, cultural programs (1-2 day tours primarily in Arctic – Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome) Small village add-ons to mature programs, e.g. to Gambell, Kiana or Stevens Village (at the end of the haul road) Cultural performances as part of large city tour, e.g. Anchorage Museum, Eklutna Village (near Anchorage), Juneau, Kodiak (Alutiiq dancers), Fairbanks (Alaskaland). This is a growing segment of tourism. Ecotourism, multi-day direct contact with community, flexible schedules, e.g. St. Paul Island (3-6 day trips for wildlife viewing), Afognak (archaeology digs), Huslia (y all come tours that show the real village setting, fish camp and let visitors hang out with locals) A new category is just beginning to emerge: Private entrepreneurs (mostly non-Natives), e.g. in Southeast Alaska, jet-boating along the Stikine River. These private tours are mostly adventure-based tours (kayaking, canoeing, hiking) So why are Native communities seeking tourism projects?
Economic benefit – money. Although no one is getting rich. Preservation of culture – though creation of jobs for youth, elders and the community; for performances/revitalization of dances, songs, storytelling, making traditional dress regalia; selling crafts, education of community and visitors; training children; language skills, self-esteem and pride in culture and creation of long-term benefits. Some are subsidized by their village corporations or councils for these reasons. Local control – now communities can control who is running the tours, hiring employees and presenting Native peoples and cultures from their own perspective. This came about in Alaska only recently because of an opportunity created when a large non-Native owned organization went bankrupt and left tour operators without local contracts. Many village communities stepped up and continued operations on their own. They were able to assert their principles of ecotourism to: Be respectful of local cultures Allow local communities to benefit financially from ecotourism This growing industry has brought about concerns of: Too many tourists (although this in not generally heard from native communities)
Tours staying out of small villages Lets talk about the impacts of eco-tourism:
Positive: Native communities are learning the tourism business Some Native corporations are starting their own locally-owned tours Communities have more control of the message getting out Big cruises/bus companies are using more step-on guides for local tours (Holland America and Princess) Big companies know it is good business to be a good citizen and are helping to sell small village tours for local communities, although private entrepreneurs are not.
Negative: Signs of severe impact on lands, tundra, vegetation Concerns with extraction Primary Native Concerns: Use of lands without permission – issues of stress, waste, destruction of river banks Access to subsistence harvests (moose, caribou) for locals – traditional subsistence use areas are being over-used by large, primarily non – Native cities like Anchorage, because of road access/systems. Some corporations are now starting to charge for passage through their lands in order to control their use.
We recognize two separate and distinct issues:
Resource consumption issues and land control – because moreconsumptive tourism is happening in areas like Bristol Bay and Ahtna where there are not a lot of performance cultural activities and they dont have the same issues as Southeast or the Arctic. Local control and jobs – more the issues in Southeast and the Arctic where tourists are prevalent. What are we in the Native community doing about these issues? Communities and corporations are becoming more involved in the planning, hiring and running of tours within their own areas.
The Alaska Village Initiatives, a nonprofit Native organization is working on: A new brochure to be used as promotion to outside visitors The Alaska Village Tours project which assists villages with ongoing tours A demonstration project called the Alaska Native Tourism Council (similar to the Alaska Visitors Association, but Native-oriented). The ANTC is a membership organization with dues-paying members. They have started a marketing program for tourists encouraging them to include a Native tour product to really see Alaska. They also provide trainers and educators to assist member communities and Natives as a whole. Alaska Village Initiatives also manages the Rural Tourism Project, a joint venture with the Alaska Division of Tourism, which helps to connect local people with industry representative and presents educational, business, planning, research and database workshops.Native communities and organizations are also beginning their own unique projects such as the work the Alaska Intertribal Council is doing with: Tourism on Kodiak Island – utilizing traditional knowledge to apply to the growing tourism opportunities with the Kodiak Native Tourism Association.
Musk Ox at Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island – working with the Mekoryuk Tribal Council to become comanagers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the largest federally-managed herd. Herring at Sitka Sound – The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is also seeking to co-manage the herring sac roe fisheries in Sitka Sound with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. One of the concerns is teaching people how to use traditional knowledge to collect and record information which is essential to better understand the herring fisheries within the last 100 years. Natural resources at Emmonak – working with their natural resource specialist to identify how traditional methods can be utilized. With all of this information, we have yet to determine the real impacts of eco-tourism in village Alaska. In some circumstances, conservation of wildlife and other natural resources is viewed as antagonistic to economic development and improving the economic lot of local areas and citizens.
One manifestation of that antagonism is that catering to tourism and natural resource uses by nonresidents is sometimes viewed as selling out local resources to the exclusion of local people. In other circumstances, tourism is seen as a major source of jobs and income to local economies and foreign exchange to national economies. Whether any or all of those underlying premises are true or not, the resource allocation issues arising from them are real. However, the real questions of the impact of eco-tourism in village Alaska remains: Who will gain, who will lose and what does it mean?