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Meeting at its annual American Indian Tourism Conference, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) on Tuesday announced the annual conference will become the American Indigenous Tourism Conference to reflect the inclusivity of all the United States tribal nations and communities beyond tribes, as Indigenous tourism continues to preserve generations of cultural heritage storytelling.

AIANTA is the only national organization dedicated to advancing cultural heritage tourism in Native Nations and communities across the United States.

The news was delivered in a keynote address by AIANTA CEO Sherry L. Rupert as the national nonprofit kicked off its 25th anniversary at the Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. on the tribal homelands of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.  

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“So often as Native peoples of this nation we are marginalized and left out,” said AIANTA CEO Sherry L. Rupert (Paiute/Washoe). “There is no worse feeling than not being given a seat at the table. Native Hawaiians don't have the same federal recognition that our tribes in the U.S. do, yet they are still Indigenous people of this nation and should no longer be left out.”

“The acknowledgment that there are other Indigenous people in this nation is important and we as Native peoples believe that we are related,” Rupert said. “We are connected. Just as we are connected to the land, the water, the animals, and the stars in this universe - we are all connected and that's why it’s important.” 

Also on Tuesday, AIANTA also led a discussion with leaders from the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and New Zealand Māori Tourism, as the three leading Global Indigenous Tourism Organizations united to share how Indigenous cultures can thrive through responsible and sustainable tourism practices while safeguarding their cultural heritage.

This week AIANTA celebrates the significant achievements the organization has made to define, introduce, grow, and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values. Most notably its successful legislative work led to the industry-changing Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act (NATIVE Act) funding in 2018, as Indian Country Tourism was recognized through federal appropriations via NATIVE Act implementation. 

AIANTA also continues to celebrate and build upon its 25 years of strategic partnerships across Native Nations and communities, federal, state, and the travel industry as together they facilitate a thriving Indigenous tourism industry. Among those partners, keynote speakers at AITC this week include: 

  • Chairman Marshall Pierite, Chairman & CEO, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana 
  • Chris Thompson, President & CEO, Brand USA, the destination marketing organization of the U.S.
  • Brian Beall, Director, U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Chairman Milanovich, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Caroline Beteta, President & CEO, Visit California
  • Mālia Sanders, Executive Director, Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association
  • Onna LeBeau, Director, Office of Indian Economic Development
  • Sebastien Desnoyers-Picard, Vice President, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada
  • Pania Tyson -Nathan, Chief Executive, New Zealand Maori Tourism

“AITC is much more than a conference for us. It truly signifies we are still here, which is why we chose it as the theme for our 25th annual event,” said Rupert. “In this country Indigenous people are an afterthought in history and across the tourism industry. Through cultural tourism and AIANTA, all the broad shoulders that we stand on today have brought us to the point where we can envision the future of Indigenous tourism,” she said.

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