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.
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. Since joining AIANTA as CEO in 2019, she has spearheaded several initiatives, including the organization’s groundbreaking new Tribal Agritourism program and overseeing AIANTA’s first-ever virtual American Indian Tourism Conference, which drew a record number of registrants in 2020.
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 Office of National Marine Sanctuary System (ONMS) Business Advisory Council under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce.
Under her leadership, she 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 2010. During that time, she was instrumental in working with Congress to pass the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act.
Rupert was formerly the Executive Director of the State of Nevada Indian Commission, where she reported directly to the Governor of Nevada to serve as a liaison to the state’s 27 tribes, bands and colonies. During her tenure, she developed the Nevada Indian Territory initiative and won awards and accolades for her work in preserving the site of the Stewart Indian School as a museum and cultural center.
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.
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.
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.
Bianca Mitchell (Pueblo of Acoma) joins AIANTA as the organization’s Education Manager. With an extensive background in events management, donor development, communications and marketing, Bianca brings years of experience to AIANTA. In her role as the Education Manager, she will identify, develop, implement, market and promote technical assistance and training programs, webinars and certificate programming. Bianca’s goal is to assist in growing and enhancing the program model for and with AIANTA.
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.
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.
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.
NPS Partner Program Coordinator
Jolene Catron (Navajo Nation) is the project coordinator for AIANTA’s National Park Service partner program. She recently served as the lead field manager for the 2020 Census and was part of a management team that oversaw the decennial count for northern New Mexico’s 17 counties and 21 tribal nations, with more than 2,000 employees across four operations, during the Covid pandemic. Jolene has served as a policy analyst, administrative specialist, environmental justice advisor and executive manager, always as an advocate for Tribal nations. Jolene, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, is a citizen of the Navajo Nation with family ties to the Pueblos of Zuni and Laguna. She is a proud grandmother of one, mother of three, sister, aunt and daughter.
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.
Kelli Hepler is a Colorado-based agritourism developer and marketing consultant. She has worked in tourism for 35 years running her own business promoting and developing tourism products for clients and organizations. Kelli has been an active part of agritourism development for 20 years creating award winning programs and working to create clearer paths for agritourism business. Kelli has been working with farmers and ranchers to create agritourism programs that connect their guest to the land and the food they produce. Educational tours, farm-to-table dinners, special events and product development are part of her focus.
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!
Native Arts and Culture Coordinator
Melanie LaBorwit comes to AIANTA with over 30 years of experience working with museums and developing public sector programs celebrating regional traditional heritage and culture. She will be working to grow partnerships with Native American artists and regional museums, galleries and cultural centers to raise visibility and access for cultural tribal resources. She will work to empower Native American artists and develop their markets and elevate awareness of the role that Native arts play in regional economic development as a vibrant part of the present and future of tribal communities.
LaBorwit graduated from Georgetown University with a double major in History and Fine Arts and continued her graduate work at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute. She has worked closely with the Native American community over the years working in a crosscultural education project on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, as State Folk Art and Folklife Coordinator in South Dakota, and most recently, as Museum Educator with the New Mexico History Museum.
Rebecca Apodaca is the Information Specialist at AIANTA. Detailed and organized, Rebecca researches and works to ensure that AIANTA’s databases are accurate and up-to-date. Rebecca was born and raised in the Pueblo of Zuni. She received her degree in School Health Education from the University of New Mexico. She worked for 25 years teaching middle school with the Albuquerque Public Schools where she worked with students and parents. The last few years included online teaching which included assisting other teachers on how to use the new technology. She resides in Albuquerque with her husband, two adult children, and her pets.
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
Content & Social Media Coordinator
Alicia Nequatewa (Hopi/Navajo) is the Content and Social Media Coordinator for AIANTA. In 2018, she received her BA in Native American & Indigenous Studies with a minor in Peace & Conflict Studies from Fort Lewis College. Now, Alicia is working towards her MLS in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. As an undergraduate student, Alicia was a member of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Board. She is an active board member of the Mesa Verde Museum Association for Mesa Verde National Park.
As a media consultant for Native American businesses and individuals, she works at growing their social media presence by assisting with management and the development of content. Alicia is also a contemporary Indigenous artist who works in dentalium shell jewelry, silver-smithing, lapidary setting, painted parfleche (rawhide) jewelry, and contemporary & traditional Indigenous clothing.