Celebrating Native Tourism

After years of hard work and planning, this August the South Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (SDNTA) celebrated its official launch. Red Cloud is thrilled to play a leading role in this dynamic group, a coalition of representatives from the nine federally recognized tribal nations in South Dakota, as well as tourism industry leaders, and local, state, and federal partners, “working together to develop Native American tourism as a catalyst for economic growth.” Our own Director of Community Relations and Marketing, alumna Rilda Means, was one of the featured speakers at SDNTA’s launch event. Below, she shares her reflections on the day and on the potential of Native tourism to change lives in Indigenous communities.

Red Cloud's Lakota Language Camp gathered in a circle

“The launch of the South Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (SDNTA) was simply amazing. I have not seen my colleagues from this group for a little over a year and that was the best part was being with some of them in person. You know that feeling when you haven’t seen a good friend in a long time and all you want to do is run up to them and give them the biggest hug because your heart fills up with excitement? That was the feeling I had, except I couldn’t do that due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we are still living with. But what I can say is that the people that make up the South Dakota Tourism Alliance are all amazingly talented and fun people. We have members from George Washington University who have been facilitating all of our work, representatives from all nine federally recognized tribal nations in South Dakota, federal, state, and local partners. I mean, with this wide variety that makes up this group, this group is dynamic! With room to keep growing of course.

We started the day off by signing in and greeting one another after a long time apart, and then we gathered into the auditorium at The Journey Museum. We had a beautiful opening prayer given by Mr. Gerald Yellow Hawk, his son, and the Moreno Drum group. Then, the day began with some heartfelt, energetic welcomes from tribal chairmen, and the Congressional leaders’ tribal liaisons. To have these specific leadership roles come to this event and tell us how they see Tribal tourism as a welcomed and important venture was so special to me. I have been working with the SDNTA for two years, and when you are in the work you don’t really notice how the work you are doing is important or even supported by other entities. You’re almost just kind of hoping for the best and hope something works out. So, to hear these men and women tell us, SDNTA, that they support our work was truly special.

After all the words of welcome and support were said we got into the good stuff, the achievements, and words from our tourism champions (which I was blessed enough to be asked to speak for and I humbly accepted). The achievements of each action team of the SDNTA were awe-inspiring. We have been talking about all of these tasks for quite a few months and to see those tasks come to life was awesome. We have a 5-year plan, a logo, a website, a video, an etiquette guide, and an etiquette guide video! That is a lot of work that was done within the year and in just the past few months. Congratulations to all of those within the SDNTA, we did all this work and we are moving forward.

Red Cloud's Lakota Language Camp gathered in a circle

The words from our tourism champions were made up of a few SDNTA members that work directly with tour groups and give tours. In this special moment, we got to hear hope, goals, and direction from other members that view tourism as a sustainable approach for our tribal communities to be supported economically and support the social well-being of our communities. In the end, our tribal communities deserve this, they deserve so much more and then some. We as SDNTA are using our new platform to come to the table of tourism and to take a seat to tell our stories, our truth, our history and to share our voice on our terms in the best way possible. We’re also a good-natured and hilarious bunch. I mean, who doesn’t like that one relative that keeps you laughing?

We wrapped the day up with a closing prayer from Mr. Gus Yellowhair and his daughter Tianna Yellowhair, who own Tatanka Rez Tours offering tours of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Let me tell you, Gus and Tianna are those relatives that make you laugh and learn throughout their entire tour. We also had a delicious lunch that was made by local foodie extraordinaires who do magic creating tasty meals from traditional foods, Arlo and Lisa Iron Cloud and Luke and Linda Black Elk.

So, to wrap up this reflection and bring it full circle to what I said in the beginning, the day was simply...amazing. The people who make up the SDNTA are professionals and are amazing, and the work that was accomplished so far through this group is amazing. We just have to keep pushing forward with our goals, our partnerships, and the support of our communities. One day, we’re going to have thriving communities through this work and I am so excited to be able to help our communities get there in any way I can.”


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