Tribal Tourism and Native Voices in Parks

Tlingit tribal members standing outside a building decorated with traditional carving artwork
The August 25th grand opening of Xunaa Shuká Hít at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was a powerful day filled with the brilliant sights and sounds of joyous hearts celebrating the Huna Káawu’s return to homeland.

NPS Photo

Throughout the United States, the stories and heritage of the first peoples that inhabited this land frequently intersect closely with national parks due to geography, history, and culture. Many national parks are ancestral homelands and important places for maintaining cultural identity. The National Park Service (NPS) is committed to working with American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to preserve native cultural heritage and celebrate tribal cultures.

In recent years, a number of collaborations between tribes and the NPS have focused on amplifying native voices within park visitor experiences and supporting the development of tribal tourism. Through these collaborations, tourism can help Indian Country link its historical interpretations and cultural vitality to modern landscapes, showcasing tribal stories and perspectives that are intertwined in the fabric of American history. Recognizing the growing popularity of tourism to Indian Country and the resulting benefits of economic development and the expression and preservation of native cultural heritage, the National Park Service in its second century of stewardship continues to engage with tribal partners and support native tourism.

The National Park Service and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association encourage travelers celebrate American Indian cultures by visiting national parks with special connections to native heritage. The 2016 NPS centennial saw a number of projects offering tribes expanded opportunities for cultural expression and giving park visitors new perspectives on history, community, and the land.

  • Twenty years of relationship building and collaboration between the Hoonah Indian Association and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was celebrated at the opening of the Huna Tlingit Tribal House (Xunaa Shuka Hit) on August 25, 2016. The Tribal House provides a venue for ceremonies, workshops, camps, and tribal meetings. Through mentoring, apprentice opportunities, and interpretive programming, the Huna Tlingit Tribal House ensures that Huna Tlingit culture, language, and history will be passed on to current and future generations.
  • At the Desert View Area and Watchtower in Grand Canyon National Park, the expertise and voices of the park’s Inter-tribal Advisory Council and park staff along with support from the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association are launching a new vision and model for interpretation and tribal engagement. Park visitors can now engage with First Voice cultural demonstrators and interpreters while tribal youth can take part in internship and employment opportunities offered by the park. Over time, an inter-tribal heritage center will be developed where visitors can learn more about neighboring tribes and get information for visiting tribal reservations.
  • The National Park Service and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association also pooled resources and expertise to bring a new perspective on the experience of Route 66. Native American experiences along the historic roadway is highlighted in a new website and travel guide. While the guide includes native history and points of interest along the route, it also informs travelers about authentic cultural experiences available today. Compiled with assistance from many tribes along the route, the new “American Indians and Route 66” site and guide give travelers a more complete and meaningful picture of the famed journey.
  • The Klamath Tribes of Oregon consider Crater Lake to be a place of important spiritual significance. When the Britt Orchestra and the staff at Crater Lake National Park began planning a special centennial concert in the park, they reached out to the Steiger Butte Drum troupe, made up of members of the Klamath Tribes, to play a prominent role. On July 29 and 30, 2016, the Orchestra, Drum Troupe, and a 50-voice choir debuted an original composition, Natural History, to an enthusiastic crowd of park visitors.
  • In Acadia National Park, weekly Cultural Connections presentations spotlight the heritage and history of the park and the region. This year, Hawk Henries, member of the Nipmuck tribe, brought a tribal voice to the series, featuring storytelling and musical performances on his hand-carved eastern woodland flutes.
  • In 2018, the Fort Laramie Historic Site (Wyoming) will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Fort Laramie officials have been in conversation with the 25 treaty tribes since 2015. Discussions to date have centered around two basic themes: the resilience of the tribes to maintain/thrive with their cultural traditions intact, and to educate their youth and non-natives about their rich, vibrant culture. The park wishes to provide logistical support for the tribes to permanently tell the complete story of Fort Laramie, not just the military story that has been interpreted since its establishment in 1938.
  • Following several decades of discussions, plans for a Chickasaw Heritage Center in northern Mississippi took a big step forward in October 2016 with the signing of a partnership agreement among the Chickasaw Nation, the city of Tupelo, the Chickasaw Inkana Foundation, and the National Park Service. The organizations will work together on expanding cultural knowledge of the Chickasaw Nation Homeland. The Chickasaw Nation through the Chickasaw Inkana Foundation will construct the heritage center on land the Foundation purchased adjacent to the Natchez Trace Parkway’s Chickasaw Village Site. The center will include rotating and permanent exhibits, artifacts, digital displays, language lessons, and more, telling the story of Chickasaw Nation.

For more information about tribal tourism experiences, visit NativeAmerica.Travel.

Last updated: September 23, 2022