- By Neely Bardwell
Recently, in a unanimous vote, a dedicated seat was created specifically for a member of a federally recognized tribe in Alaska or a shareholder of an Alaska Native Corporation on the board of directors for the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA).
The ATIA Board of Directors is made up of members representing small and large tourism businesses and different sectors of the travel industry. The ATIA Board of Directors is also comprised of regional representatives, including elected directors from the Arctic, Interior, Southwest, Southcentral, and Southeast regions of the state. Directors also are elected to At-Large (statewide) and Outside seats. Before the addition of the new seat, there wasn't a seat dedicated specifically to Alaskan Native tribes or corporations.
The new seat is specifically designed for Alaska Natives who are unaffiliated with a tourism group or cultural center, and can represent the community’s interest in the industry.
Emily Keneggnarkayaaggaq Edenshaw (Yup’ik/Iñupiaq) was recently elected to the ATIA Executive Committee of the board of directors as a representative for the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC) as she is also the president and CEO of ANHC. The Heritage Center is the only statewide living cultural and education center in northeast Anchorage that promotes the active observance of Alaska Native culture and traditions.
“In 2017 I went to an ATIA board meeting and there was time for public comment,” Edenshaw told First Alaskans Institute. “I asked if they valued Indigenous people, do they value cultural tourism, and if our Indigenous voices were being represented through ATIA.” Edenshaw recalls asking “If you value [cultural tourism], then why aren’t you spending any money on it?” at the ATIA meeting.
It was her comments then that brought the issue of lack of Indigenous representation to the board’s attention. Edenshaw is thrilled about this new addition, as she believes it is “the right thing to do”, and she is excited to see what comes in the future. The president and CEO of ATIA shares the same sentiment.
“We’ve had conversations for some time about creating a tribally designated seat,” said Jillian Simpson, ATIA’s president and CEO. “The idea gained critical mass in the past year as our cultural marketing efforts increased and we collaborated with Indigenous content producers for recent campaigns. I am thrilled to lead the organization into this new era of partnership with the Alaska Native community.”
Another key component to the success of adding the new seat is Camille Ferguson (Tlingit), ATIA board member, chair of ATIA's cultural enrichment committee and economic development director of Sitka Tribe of Alaska, who looks forward to more involvement of tribal travel and tourism leaders.
The state of Alaska is home to the largest number of tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Indigenous people in the United States. The board of directors consists of 24 members who are elected for three-year terms. In order to be eligible to vote for the board, voters must be ATIA members.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association, or ATIA, is Alaska’s leading statewide nonprofit membership association that promotes Alaska’s tourism industry. They manage Alaska’s destination marketing program Travel Alaska that is responsible for promoting tourism as a major economic contributor to Alaska’s economy.
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