O me’a”kwa: Wishing you Safe & Happy Holidays

(I’m going to travel over there, Northern Paiute)

Dear AIANTA members, friends and partners–

As the holidays approach and the weather starts to cool across the country, from wherever you are reading this, I hope you are entering the holiday season with the same great excitement and anticipation of being surrounded by your loved ones as I am. As I prepare to return home to Nevada to spend the holidays with my family, I am overwhelmed with the thought of what makes the holidays so special for me, family. My own family, and my AIANTA family.

As 2021 is coming to an end, I can’t help but reflect on the challenging, yet tremendous year we have had here at AIANTA. First, I was so pleased to see so many of the AIANTA family at the American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC) this year – Reunited and it Felt so Good!  With nearly 300 attendees representing 29 states, two Canadian provinces and 25 tribes enjoyed the incredible hospitality of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation at the new We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort. The conference featured three keynote speakers, 48 general session speakers, 21 breakout sessions and the inspiring words by our Heart Speaks Keynote Patuk Glenn who challenged us all to tell our stories using every tool available. We also celebrated the formation of the new Visitor Outreach department, which fulfills our goal in expanding awareness of indigenous experiences and destinations with domestic and international travelers. And our education department broke some new records. For example, our expanded webinar series registration numbers increased by 129% from the previous year. To see more of our accomplishments from 2021, head over to our 2021 in Review page.

Not only did AIANTA have a great year, but Indian Country continued to push through and expand despite the many challenges we have individually and collectively faced because of COVID-19. In these times of struggle and adaptation, I am so pleased to congratulate the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City which opened this year.  This amazing space houses the stories of 39 First American Nations in Oklahoma and “shares the cultural diversity, history and contributions of the First Americans.”   I also want to congratulate the Sioux Chef Sean Sherman for spearheading the Owamni Restaurant to highlight Indigenous cuisine on the Minneapolis Riverfront.  And just one more, a big applause for the co-founders, Eunique Yazzie (Navajo) and Melody Lewis (Hopi/Tewa/Mojave), for opening their take on the modern-day Cahokia, Cahokia SocialTech + ArtSpace in Downtown Phoenix. These are just a few of the exciting things that happened throughout Indian Country in 2021, but you can always check our What’s New in Indian Country page for more, as we are always updating.

With tourism in Indian Country expanding, you, our AIANTA family have shown us the need for capacity building in education around cultural tourism and we are so excited about our partnership in conjunction with San Diego State University. This will be our first for-credit offering, developed in partnership with the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, it will allow students and professionals to explore the fundamentals of tribal tourism planning. There is still time to register for classes, they begin on January 10, so make sure to sign up soon so you don’t miss out. Also, check out the SDSU/AIANTA Information Session on Certificate in Cultural Tourism & Tribal Enterprises webinar on demand now, for everything you may need to know about the program.

I am also thrilled to announce that we are continuing our partnership with George Washington University and will be offering the GWU Certificate Program in Cultural Heritage Tourism, beginning in May 2022. The Information Session & Indigenous Marketing Spotlight: GW & AIANTA Professional Certificate in Cultural Heritage Tourism is also available on demand.

We have so much to look forward to in the New Year and are so happy you all will be there with us. For starters, I will be back on the road in January for the first FAM trip since 2019. In 2022 we will be in California with Brand USA for an all-Native California Familiarization Tour with Italian tour operators and media. We are also excited to be launching the Leave No Trace Advisory Group. We are looking for participants for this group to represent all 15 of our regions. If you are interested in being part of this new initiative to help build educational tools to inform visitors on how to respect and enjoy Native lands, please contact our Program Development Director at hpeterson@aianta.org.

I am also looking forward to all the events AIANTA will be hosting in the coming year, including welcoming you all to Go International 2022 to be hosted right here in our home base, Albuquerque, NM. Save the date of April 19-20 and stay tuned for more details coming soon. And of course, we will be seeing you all again at AITC 2022 in Funner, California at Harrah’s SoCal hosted by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians on October 24-27. We are already looking for sponsors, exhibitors, artisans and speakers. If you would like to participate in AITC 2022 please contact AIANTA Education Manager at bmitchell@aianta.org. We will also continue rolling out our robust webinar series all of 2022, and don’t forget all webinars are always available on-demand.

Lastly, it is time for our annual membership drive. Become a part of the movement to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values. Remember last year’s Jingle Dress thumb drives? This year, we are introducing our Apache Dancer thumb drives, and they are just as cute! Join AIANTA by January 31, 2022 and receive one of AIANTA’s proprietary Apache Dancer thumb drives. If you are already a member, you may renew your membership for 2022 by January 31, 2022, to receive the thumb drive.

I wish you all safe and happy holidays and hope you are able to spend them with the ones you love.


(See you later, Northern Paiute)

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