USA & Canada | Destination Guides

In their own words: How tourism is making a difference to Indigenous communities in the Dakotas

When tourism is thoughtful and responsible, it has the potential to be a force for positive change in communities around the world. This has become remarkably clear in the Dakotas in the United States, where Indigenous communities are leveraging the power of responsible tourism to boost local economies, preserve their rich cultural heritage, and share knowledge with visitors from around the world.

Trafalgar has partnered with local Indigenous communities in North and South Dakota to develop a first-of-its-kind tour – National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas. With authentic Indigenous experiences, the tour is run by and directly supports these local communities. We sat down with some of the community leaders who helped develop this tour and who our guests will meet on the tour, to get their insights on exactly how tourism is making a difference to Indigenous communities in the Dakotas. 

EXPERIENCE IT: National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas

Tourism helps protect and celebrate Indigenous culture 

“There’s a multitude of opportunities that can result from tourism on the Rosebud Reservation. One aspect would be cultural revitalization, and another would be the conservation and preservation of our cultural and natural resources. Those are the two main ones and then ultimately looking further down the road it would be the economic impact for the people on our reservation.”

Tourism gives the Indigenous tribes in South Dakota the opportunity to let people know who we are today. We’re not the stereotypical Indians they hear about, we’re actually very proud and resilient people. We have a beautiful culture and a very rich past and history that we’re willing to share with people, to educate and create a better understanding of who we are today.”

Sarah Kills In Water, member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux tribe)

“I think tourism is important because we would really like to share certain aspects of our culture so people can understand our culture because there’s a lot of people who are kind of ignorant of our culture. Sharing information helps that ignorance go away and helps people come together more collaboratively.”

Teddie Rae Hermin, member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux tribe)

RELATED CONTENT: How this tour brings to life Native American culture in a completely new way

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Tourism helps develop skills and create jobs

“Tourism is a wonderful opportunity for our youth here as it gives them the opportunity to meet with other people from all across the county and all over the world and help them to gain a better worldview while gaining skills and abilities that could be a new career for them. 

Our youth that come here learn not only who they are as a Lakota person and understand who’s ancestors shoulders they stand on, but they also gain skills and learn what their skills and strengths are, and help them find a straighter path to their passion.”

Marla C. Bull, Executive Director of Lakota Youth Development and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

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Tourism helps boost the economy

“I think it’s really important to develop tourism in the Dakotas because it’s kind of lacking in all of the nine reservations. We’re all Sioux reservations here in Dakota and it is lacking right now. I really believe it would help put us on the map and bring in more tourism, and it would help our economy. 

Maybe on one of these tours, we’d have someone come in who would like to donate some money to Sinte Gleska University (a public tribal land-grant university in Mission, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation), the St. Francis Mission or our tribe to help our people.”

Teddie Rae Hermin, member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux tribe)

“I think tourism has been huge not only for our tribe but the state of South Dakota. We depend so much on outsiders coming to be here and enjoy the beautiful scenery, culture and it plays a huge role in the upkeep of our communities, in a good way.”

Stephan Yellowhawk, member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe 

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Tourism helps educate and share knowledge about Indigenous communities 

“Tourism contributes to our communities by telling the outside world this is who we are and come and take a look and enjoy what we have to offer to everyone around us.”

Adrian D. Johnson, Events Coordinator and Tour Guide at the MHA Nation Interpretive Center

“I would like visitors to realize that we’re tribal members, we’re still here in South Dakota and we’re friendly people. I would like for them to understand our culture and to know it, so when they go somewhere and somebody says something like “Are Native Americans even still alive?”, they can say “Oh yes we went to this reservation” – Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, or talk about all tribes in South Dakota and say this is what we learned. So I’d like them to take away a bit of the culture we shared with them.”

Teddie Rae Hermin, member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux tribe)

“When creating this tour it was really important for us that the main takeaway for our visitors is to really understand we are not these poor broken people living in poverty in the middle of the United States of America. We are a strong people who are actually trying to do something positive within our homelands to make life better for our people.”

Sarah Kills In Water, member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux tribe)

“I’ve had a variety of reactions from visitors, most of them are very excited and thankful. I’ve heard a lot of guests say this is the best part of the whole trip which is amazing to me. It makes me feel good that a lot of them are just thankful for the education we’re providing and teaching about the dances and regalia and telling a bit about our own personal life and what it’s like to grow up in the culture and the area. 

I told myself a long time ago when this is no longer fun then it’s time to stop doing it. But every year the different groups that come through the area with Trafalgar are amazing people and they’re always so respectful and so receptive of what we’re trying to teach and share. I credit a lot to my grandfather and the way he brought me up. He was always preaching and teaching and so I like to follow his lead and do the same thing that he did in his life.”

Stephan Yellowhawk, member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe 

RELATED CONTENT: The indigenous experiences that make our Southwest USA tour so memorable

Learn more about the people and incredible experiences on our National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas tour. 

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