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. 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 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 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.
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.
Bianca Mitchell, an accomplished professional and member of the Pueblo of Acoma community, brings a wealth of experience to her role as the Education Manager at AIANTA. With a proven track record in event management, donor relations, and communications and marketing, Bianca has spearheaded the development and implementation of various technical assistance and training programs, webinars, and cultural certificate programming. As a passionate advocate for indigenous communities, she also organizes the Annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC), the only national conference dedicated to growing tourism in America’s indigenous communities. Bianca’s primary objective is to enhance and expand AIANTA’s program model, making it even more effective and impactful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tribal Content Developer
Candali “Candy” Beatty serves as the Tribal Content Developer and comes to AIANTA from Canada. She is Cree from Muskoday First Nation in Saskatchewan. For the last 30 years, she lived and grew up a few provinces over in Ontario; where she chose to raise her 2 children, who are now grown and living on their own. Candy is a published non-fiction writer and poet educated in Journalism and Communications. As CTV’s first Aboriginal Relations Coordinator, she was instrumental in the creation of the Aboriginal Resource Directory, an informational tool used throughout newsrooms. With CTV, she facilitated and led several successful Aboriginal Youth Communication Camps to advocate careers in the television industry. She is thrilled to be in Albuquerque building relationships in the cultural tourism industry, writing for AIANTA, and bringing AIANTA tribal content for NativeAmerica.travel. If you have any ideas or news you would like to share, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 505-724-3592.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.