The recent and devastating news from the Attawaspikat community in Canada has left us with the desire to try and understand what went wrong so that situations such as these never happen again. There is never an easy solution and the causes have been built up over time.
Is Aboriginal Tourism one way that we can better understand the issues facing indigenous people or is it actually hurting these communities? There are obvious benefits to having this type of tourism. Job creation is a big one, especially when the lack of job opportunities is a key factor leading to depression, alcoholism and most recently suicide pacts. An increase in cultural pride is another positive factor that has been claimed as an effect of Aboriginal Tourism.
Apparently, tour operators overestimate international tourists demand to visit indigenous sites. Only 5% of international tourists cited the desire to visit an Aboriginal site while visiting Australia. With little interest from the domestic market, Aboriginal tourism has a difficult time standing out from competing activities. Not to mention that there have been unsustainable practices used by early pioneers of experiential travel with the only intention of bringing tourists to the area as opposed to working in partnership with local community members. There are case studies of Maasai tribes in East Africa being forced off of their land so that large camps and lodges can be built close to the nature reserves. Tourists want to feel as though they have truly experienced the culture which can lead to staged authenticity as locals perform rituals made to educate and entertain but might be used completely out of context – in which the education aspect is falling short.
There is a need for tour operators to promote the ease of transportation to Aboriginal communities as they are usually in very remote areas whereas most tourists hardly leave inner cities while on vacation. There also needs to be consistent partnership between tour operators and the Aboriginal communities members themselves. Trust must be present in order to have honest discussions of how to evolve with the expectations of international tourists while keeping the cultural integrity and identity of the local people. Would you consider visiting a native reserve or aboriginal tourist area?