O me’a”kwa

(I’m going to travel over there)

Ha muh (How are you?)

As we work our way through the second month of the second decade of this millennium, I can’t help but reflect how much Indian Country tourism has changed in the past twenty years.

At the beginning of 2000, AIANTA was merely a thought–a loose idea of a much-needed association that could help Tribes identify and define their own paths to economic prosperity through tourism programming.

Today, I’m proud to say, the organization drives international awareness for tribal tourism while also presenting a world-class educational series and producing the only tourism conference of its kind in the country.

Meanwhile, tourism throughout Indian Country is also growing. (In case you’re interested, here are some of the Native American Experiences we’re most excited for in 2020.)

As we celebrate AIANTA’s growth and that of the industry, you’ll see AIANTA rolling out some new programming this year.

First, you may have noticed that the monthly Director’s Corner post has been renamed to O me’a”kwa.

In part, the change comes as we look to incorporate more use of Native languages in our tourism messaging. (O me’a”kwa means “I’m going to travel over there” in Paiute.)

Additionally, I’m honored to announce that the AIANTA Board of Directors has approved a title change for my position, from Executive Director to Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The title change elevates AIANTA as an organization. There are big goals attached to the new title, but I’m confident that our Board of Directors and the AIANTA staff are ready to meet them.

Of course, it wouldn’t be possible for AIANTA to advance the tourism industry without your help.

This year we will be visiting communities throughout the country to engage in information gathering and listening sessions and we hope you will join us and let us know what your priorities are with respect to growing tourism within your own communities.

We’ll be announcing our outreach dates shortly.

Industry Developments: Brand USA Re-authorization

In the meantime, I’d also like to recognize several recent moments in the tourism industry.

First, I’m thrilled to announce that Brand USA–the official tourism marketing arm for the United States–has been reauthorized through 2027, with strong bipartisan support.

Brand USA has been an excellent partner for AIANTA, joining us every year at the American Indian Tourism Conference and co-sponsoring an annual fam trip, which showcases Indian Country destinations to media and tour operators from the Italian market.

Brand USA also actively supported the inclusion of Native voices in its annual marketing campaigns. In case you missed it, they have just released the centerpiece of their 2020 marketing campaign, the new IMAX film “Into America’s Wild.”

The film features three trailblazing Americans who explore the Great Outdoors, including John Herrington, the first Native American astronaut, and Ariel Tweto, an Alaska Native producer, director and TV personality.

If you joined us at AITC in Tulsa, Oklahoma,  you had the pleasure of meeting John and Ariel in person.

This was an exciting moment for me personally and I thank Brand USA for continuing to highlight Indian Country in its tourism messaging and for sharing its vision with us at AITC.

Industry Developments: Infrastructure Improvements

I’d also like to take a moment to recognize representatives from three House committees: Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA), who have worked together to develop a bi-partisan five-year, $760 billion investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

Among the key elements, the infrastructure framework promises to:

  • Ensure a transportation system that is green, affordable, reliable, efficient and provides access to jobs,
  • Prioritize the safety of the traveling public; and
  • Expand broadband internet access adoption for unserved and underserved rural, suburban and urban communities.

These proposed improvements will pave the way for additional success in Indian Country tourism, especially in our rural communities. I thank the committee for recognizing the importance of driving tourism traffic and how convenient access to online technology can help drive that growth.

Also, speaking of infrastructure, the Bureau of Indian Affairs just announced it has awarded $727,229 in grant money to American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, through its Native American Business Development Institute Grant program.

The granted monies will be used by Tribes and Alaska Native organizations to “better evaluate and identify viable economic opportunities for their communities.” I’m so gratified to see nearly half the awarded Tribes are planning to use these grants to investigate new tourism-related ventures on their tribal lands.

It is truly a great time to be part of the tourism industry and I encourage you all to keep AIANTA in your planning and outreach. We want to help share your successes and we also want to be a part of the solution when success comes more slowly than expected.

It’s never goodbye, but I’ll see you later. Boneedwa.

Sherry L. Rupert, Chief Executive Officer
American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association


“Our country has changed dramatically since the 1950s, yet people and goods are now literally stuck trying to move on transportation networks first developed nearly 70 years ago.”

Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Chairman, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee