The dynamic teamwork of AIANTA’s staff, Board of Directors, funders, partners, consultants and members is the most significant driver in pursuing and realizing our mission. Our team has significant experience working in Indian Country travel and tourism as well as expertise in economic and program development, rural planning and marketing.
Contact Us
6000 Uptown Blvd. NE, Suite 150
Albuquerque, NM 87110
(505) 724-3592

Sherry L. Rupert, Chief Executive Officer

AIANTA CEO Sherry L. Rupert (Paiute/Washoe) has nearly two decades of executive-level experience managing and promoting Native American tourism. As CEO of the only national association dedicated to indigenous tourism, she is the leading voice when it comes to advocating for travel and tourism as a significant economic driver in tribal nations. She also holds leadership positions on various national boards including the Board of Directors for the U.S. Travel Association, the America250 Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Committee and the National Park Service Advisory Board Tourism Committee. She is a former member of the Business Advisory Council under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce. 

Under her leadership, she has launched the Economic Impact of U.S. Indigenous Tourism Businesses, the first-ever ever study of its kind. She also curates a robust educational program for tribes and indigenous- owned hospitality enterprises around the country. Prior to assuming the role of CEO, she served as President of AIANTA’s Board of Directors since 2012. During that time, she was instrumental in working with Congress to pass the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act. 

Sherry previously served as the Executive Director of the State of Nevada Indian Commission, reporting directly to the Governor of Nevada to serve as a liaison to the state’s 28 tribes, bands and colonies and served as the Chairperson on Nevada’s Indian Territory, Nevada Commission on Tourism. 

Sherry has won numerous awards and accolades for her work, including for her work in preserving the site of the Stewart Indian School as a museum and cultural center and coordination of the popular Stewart Father’s Day Powwow, the largest three-day Powwow in Northern Nevada. She successfully raised $5.7 million in state appropriations to establish a museum and cultural center at the historic site. She led the development and implementation of the Stewart Indian School Master Plan (Interpretive Plan, Market Study, and Business Strategic Plan) for the State of Nevada. Sherry also created and implemented the award-winning Stewart Indian School Trail, a self-guided cell phone walking tour of the Stewart Indian School campus in 2008. 

Sherry holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Finance Major from the University of Nevada, Reno and has completed professional training courses and programs to support her work in advancing cultural tourism in the United States. 


Hannah Peterson, Program Development Director

Hannah Peterson is the Program Development Director for AIANTA, bringing to the role extensive experience in fundraising and program development. In her role as Program Development Director, Hannah works to advance the mission of AIANTA through strategic fundraising and program development. Hannah spent more than five years with J Murphy & Associates working as a consultant and grant writer and two years as grants manager for Urban Homeworks, Inc. For more than nine years, she worked as a paralegal working on business litigation, intellectual properties, worker’s compensation and insurance. She was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and received a degree in English from the University of Washington, Seattle and a Master of Public Administration from Hamline University, Minnesota.


Gail E. Chehak, Tribal Relations & Outreach Manager

Gail E. Chehak, a Klamath Tribal citizen, serves as Tribal Relations & Outreach Manager. She works to cultivate partnerships to support AIANTA’s programs, including AIANTA members, as well as tribal travel, tourism and recreation staff and tourism and recreation industry leaders. Gail has worked with tribal arts, tourism, economic development and environmental protection for the National Congress of American Indians, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Indian Arts & Crafts Association. While Arts & Tourism Coordinator for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Gail co-authored Native Peoples of the NW: A Traveler’s Guide to Land, Art & Culture. She has written numerous grant proposals and served on grant review panels for the Administration for Native Americans; AmeriCorps; National Parks Service Historic Preservation Fund; Department of Education, Library Services Special Programs to Indian Tribes; and Indian Health Service Scholarships.


Ciarra Greene, Visitor Outreach Manager

Sapooq’is Wíit’as (Nimiipuu)/ Ciarra Greene (Nez Perce) is the Visitor Outreach Manager for AIANTA. With her Master of Science in Science Teaching from Portland State University (2019) and Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University, her focus has been on promoting the protection and healing of Indigenous communities and homelands through culture, education, and science. Her experience in tourism has rapidly developed in the past three years, while her fifteen years of experience in outreach and education, founded in interdisciplinary collaboration with tribal communities, institutions, agencies, organizations, and businesses, have propelled her career. She views our role in tourism truly as an educational experience for tribal communities and our visiting guests alike. Ciarra strives to perpetuate her passion so others too may attain successful operations for their own communities, businesses, and honored guests who we welcome to tribal homelands.


Ariel Richardson

Ariel Richardson, Office Manager

Ariel Richardson, a tribal member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe from Schurz, Nevada, is AIANTA’s Office Manager. With a goal of assisting tribal members to opening Native-owned businesses in order to stimulate self-sustainability and economic development on the reservation, Ariel is especially excited to work for a non-profit agency with similar goals. Ariel’s creative background includes art direction, photography and videography and she has a degree in Applied Science for Natural Resources Management and has also studied Business Administration and Accounting.


Sherrie L. Bowman, Education Support Specialist

A tribal member from the Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico, Sherrie comes to AIANTA with more than 30 years of experience in hospitality, tourism and meeting and event planning. Sherrie has an associate of applied science degree in hospitality & tourism, an associate degree in liberal arts. She has also earned her Professional Certificate in Cultural Heritage Tourism from the George Washington University School of Business. Sherrie is a proud mother of three children, Helen, Ryan and Jontel and is “Nana” to her four grandchildren, Dakota, Daisha, DeAndre and Cassius.


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Heather Gomez, Tribal Content Developer

Heather C Gomez (Jicarilla Apache) is the Tribal Content Developer for AIANTA. She is responsible for creating written and visual content for the Native tourism industry. She assists tribes and Native owned businesses tell their stories and promote their destinations. Heather has a background in multimedia, social media and journalism.  She previously worked as a Communications Specialist with Tribal Tech and was the Editor of the Jicarilla Chieftain newspaper. She occasionally serves as a Digital Editor for NPR’s NextGenRadio Indigenous. She has her Associate of Applied Science degree in Digital Media & Art Design. She attended the University of Visual Arts for her Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design with a minor in Advertising and Marketing. Heather owns the Dulce Base Tipi, which she currently hosts on Airbnb and Hipcamp in Dulce, New Mexico. She received her professional certificate in Cultural Heritage Tourism from George Washington University and is a Tribal Liaison for the New Mexico Tribal Entrepreneurship Enhancement Program at the University of New Mexico’s Rainforest Innovations. She serves as a mentor and assists with resources for Native American Entrepreneurs in their businesses. She is excited about her new role with AIANTA and is passionate about the Native tourism industry.


Kelli Hepler, Agritourism Specialist

Kelli Hepler, a Colorado-based agritourism developer and marketing consultant, brings 35 years of experience in tourism. She has run her own business, crafting and promoting tourism products for clients and organizations. For two decades, Kelli has been a driving force in agritourism, creating award-winning programs for businesses in this field. In her two years with AIANTA, she has focused on developing Native Agritourism programs. These initiatives aim to connect guests with the land and its food through educational tours. Kelli’s focus also includes linking culinary experiences with culture and promoting food sovereignty for Tribal Enterprises. Kelli has two adult children, Tanner and Asha and three vivacious grandchildren, Wyatt, Stetson and Maysa. She loves to mountain bike, kayak, try foodie adventures and has a house rabbit to make things really fun!


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Cheryl Jim, Information Specialist

Cheryl is a proud member of the Dinè (Navajo) Nation and joined AIANTA as an Information Specialist where she works with the Tribal Relations team to keep information up to date and helps with research for tribal and industry contacts to help build and support indigenous tourism. One of her goals is to harness the power of GIS technology to enhance AIANTA’s understanding of mapping and surveying within tribal communities, particularly those that are striving to attract tourists while preserving their cultural heritage and natural landscapes. Through her work, she is a part of the inclusive and community-driven approaches to tourism that respect and celebrate the diverse traditions of Native peoples. She wants to continue to give back to her community through her diverse background in customer service, educational diversity, hospitality and volunteering. Cheryl graduated from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Business Management in 2014 and is currently continuing her education at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS).


Lorraine Gala Lewis, Research and Outreach Specialist

Lorraine is the Outreach/Research Specialist for AIANTA’s Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail project. Lorraine is a member of Laguna/Taos/Hopi. She is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and the College of Santa Fe.

“Supporting Indigenous Arts and Culture is my livelihood. I’ve been working with clay since high school and have established a professional art career over the years.” An award-winning artist and a 2021 recipient of the First People’s Fund’s Jennifer Easton Award, Lorraine has worked extensively with local and national museums, collections, foundations, and art programs. She has volunteered for many art organizations and enjoys working with and mentoring the youth. Her professional experience includes economic development having worked for the U.S. Small Business Administration, tribal government, and native organizations. Higher education has been a vital part of her life. Having worked for the Santa Fe Indian School, she saw the value and impact of a strong foundation for the future of young native students. She currently serves on the Institute of American Indian Arts Foundation Board and is active with student Scholarship Fundraising efforts as well as higher education.


Michelle Norfolk, Visitor Outreach Specialist

Michelle is the Visitor Outreach Specialist for AIANTA. She has a bachelor’s degree and has worked in the areas of business development and travel. She has helped start up clergy, coaches and consultants by creating detailed development plans and growth projections, to help them bring their business ideas into fruition. Michelle has developed and delivered training for ministries, and organizations such as SCORE, the Small Business Administration and the Georgia Department of Labor. As a credentialed travel advisor with sales and meeting experience, she has assisted clients in merging business with travel for greater impact and increased income.

Michelle enjoys getting creative with business ideas, travel and talking to people.


Wynette Philemonof, Administrative Assistant

Wynette R. Philemonof started with AIANTA as a temporary, Research and Data Clerk and is now the Administrative Assistant.  She is from the Pueblo of Acoma. She has an associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and worked with numerous lawyers in Las Vegas, NM as a Legal Secretary. She loves working and being part of the AIANTA team because she learns about other Tribes and their traditions all over the country. It gives her much gratitude to help other Tribes in sharing their history, historical sites, culture and Native businesses and to help them grow


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Savannah Sparvier, Native Arts & Culture Associate

Savannah Sparvier (Lakota, Hunkpapa) Lakota name: Cazé Yatapi Wiŋ , Everyone Calls Her Name, is the Native Arts & Culture Associate for AIANTA. As the Associate, Savannah will provide technical assistance and promotion to Native Nations and artists. Her work will expand participation of Native artists and cultural practitioners in the cultural and economic benefits of the tourism industry. Savannah grew up on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana but has lived in Albuquerque, NM, for 21 years. She grew up with family artists that did a variety of different arts such as star quilt makers, ribbon skirt makers, bead workers, quill workers, regalia makers, wood carvers and painters. This has influenced her own beadwork, wrapping and beading eagle feather shafts and ribbon skirt making. She is a proud mother of three, two daughters and a son. (Jessica, Hannah & Jacob) She received her associate degree in accounting from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) located in Albuquerque, NM.


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Eric Villegas, Partner Program Coordinator

Eric Villegas (Acoma/Tohono O’odham) is the Partner Program Coordinator (Pacific Northwest Trail) for AIANTA. Eric will provide outreach, technical assistance and training to Tribes along the Pacific Northwest Tribe and work with tribes to create a new service mark for the Trail. He is an artist advocate with a fine art and business management background. He has assisted Native Artists in producing art markets that attract visitors and buyers. He encourages Native people in all industries to continue to share their perspectives and philosophies in entrepreneurship, tourism and community development. Eric appreciates all the hard work and contributions of those who have turned Native issues into economic opportunities and community solutions; these efforts guide him.


Larry Burton (In Memoriam)
BLM Partner Program Coordinator

Larry Burton is a Carson City-based photographer and has worked with Nevada’s Tourism industry for more than 12 years.  He started his business Outdoor Adventures in 2008 and has worked for Nevada’s Indian Territory, Elko Convention & Visitors Authority, Lander County Tourism & numerous Tribal entities; photographing events, landscapes & wildlife. His photos have been published in Nevada Magazine, Wells Ruralite, Audubon Magazine & Ducks Unlimited. He has been certified by the Nevada Arts Council to teach photography and has been teaching workshops throughout the state for the last several years specializing in outreach and increasing opportunities for small rural communities.


Bureau of Indian Affairs

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Native American Agriculture Fund

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Bureau of Land Management

National Endowment of the Arts

National Park Service

United States Forest Service