Indian Tribe Goes After Tourists' Appeal
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Just ahead, a Japanese-American war hero who battled on two fronts: racism in the service and the war overseas. His remarkable story is next.
But first, just about every week around this time, we take a peek inside the Washington Post Sunday magazine for some great writing and interesting stories.
This past Sunday's travel issue featured a trip to South Dakota. Now most people probably know about the Corn Palace and, certainly, Mount Rushmore. Both contribute to the state's annual $865 million tourism industry and are part of the history of the area.
Members of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe have a rich history in the area, too. And like many times, that history is less visible to outsiders than the casino and the gift shop. But members of the Lower Brule have decided they want tourists to experience more of the authentic life and spirit of Indian country.
Their efforts are the subject of a report from Frank Bures. He joined us from member station WHA in Madison, Wisconsin. We're also joined by Scott Jones, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He directs the tribes' cultural protection and tourism efforts. Gentlemen, welcome.
Mr. FRANK BURES (Travel Writer; Author, "Spirits in the Material World"): Welcome.
Mr. SCOTT JONES (Cultural Resources Director, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe): Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Mr. Jones, if you'd start, can you tell us a little bit about the tribe's history in the area? Is the tribe native to the area or did you move there at some point in the past?
Mr. JONES: Well, that very point has been debated amongst various interests including other tribal people. The Great Sioux Nation spreads from Montana to Minnesota, and from Canada down to Nebraska, and the movement of our populations has been in a topic of great interest, and many believe that we originated here - our creation stories tell of Wind cave and Pipestone, and another place in Minnesota where we originated.
MARTIN: How did the idea of Indian cultural tourism come about? What is it that you would hope people would experience from a visit to your area?
Mr. JONES: It really came from the desire of just regular tribal people to get the truthful story out there - a more honest view of how difficult tribal life has been and the fact that, through all of that - those difficulties - you know there's a hope (unintelligible) maintained that our culture can survive, the language can come back and flourish, and we can welcome visitors in a way that we did originally when the Europeans first came and other populations came. Originally, they were welcomed and accepted for who and what they were. I'm afraid the military intentions of the United States government and the desire for land kind of overshadowed those very good beginnings.
MARTIN: Frank Bures, how did you come to find out about what the Lower Brule are trying to accomplish there with their tourism project?
MR. BURES: Because I grew up in this area in the Midwest. And we, you know, when I was growing up, we didn't go to Indian reservations and didn't have much contact with Indian people. And so when I saw this, I thought it'd be an interesting way to - thing to explore. And I saw the Lower Brule had put themselves on the map, or are on the map, for the Lewis and Clark Trail because it was an important stop for Lewis and Clark on their journey. And so I just saw that and was - I wanted to go out and have a look and so…
MARTIN: Scott Jones, it's complicated - exposing people to your culture, isn't it?
Ms. JONES: It is very difficult to share your culture especially when, for so long, the culture has been minimized and, in some ways, made to be something not good.
MARTIN: But it's also been romanticized.
Mr. JONES: That's the other side.
MARTIN: And I'm wondering what that's like?
Mr. JONES: Well, you know, people meet me and other tribal members, and we're not teepees, and we're still not riding horses, and there's all these notions out there that aren't necessarily true.
And I've got to tell you, the grinding poverty on Indian reservations that still exist today is another big part of this because if tribes - and there are many tribes trying to do this - can develop some economic opportunities that will outlive any one individual and can tell the story from the tribes' perspective, then I think things will change.
It's really part of the tapestry of America: the differences, the difficulties, as well as the good things that are going on. There are so many forces out there that really just don't want to hear it, you know, only hear about gaming and gambling and casinos, and don't realize that there are some very diverse, very unique cultures that are struggling to maintain their existence. And the…
MARTIN: But does it go both ways? I remember there was a t-shirt that was making the rounds a couple of years ago in some other cities - it said, it's a black thing. You wouldn't understand. You know, on the one hand, you can understand why people like that. On the other hand, hey, oh, come on, you know, I'm human. I can understand anything. But I just wondered, does it go both ways? Are there some folks from the tribe who don't particularly want outsiders participating in their culture?
Mr. JONES: Well, sure there are. I mean, you know, it's natural for any traditional community, whether it be a tradition or rural community, traditional business community that happens all the time, but I think that, you know, everybody has a unique story. And what one of our goals is to say, okay, you know, we have a story and we have history - and, I might add, 11,000 years of history at least - on this land, on this continent. And the knowledge and the wisdom that has been developed over those millennia can't be glossed over. And it's not something that a t-shirt or a slogan can really intimate to anybody. You really have to come on the land to really experience what the reality is.
MARTIN: Mr. Jones, if I - if we were to come on to the land, if we were to come and visit the Lower Brule, what are some of the experiences that one might have?
Mr. JONES: If you were to come out to a reservation or the other reservations, there are opportunities to speak with traditional people, to learn about some of the foods, the traditional foods and traditional medicines in a respectful way and in a way that does not sell the culture or exploit the culture but that's more educational and awareness building. And you get out on the land, you get near the water, and you hear the wind, and see the wildlife, and smell the clean air. I think the impact is a lot bigger than most people that are in urban areas or other areas really understand.
MARTIN: And, Frank Bures, a final word from you. Often when we travel, we come back changed. Is there any way in which you came back changed from your visit with Scott Jones and the folks of the Lower Brule?
MR. BURES: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think to be welcomed and like you would as a guest in someone's house and in another person's country and see kind of the history of this country from that perspective, I think, is fantastic.
MARTIN: Frank Bures is a travel writer and author of a story in the Washington Post Sunday magazine about the efforts to develop Indian cultural tourism in South Dakota. Scott Jones is the culture resource director and member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Thank you both so much for joining us.
Mr. BURES: Thank you.
Mr. JONES: Thank you.
MARTIN: If you want to read Frank Bures' story, "Spirits in the Material World," you can find a link on our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore.
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