New guide hopes to give tourists a chance to appreciate Alaska Native cultures

Telling Alaska’s Story
New guide hopes to give tourists a chance to appreciate Alaska Native cultures
Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 6:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Its captivating vistas and glaciers, untamed wildlife, and unique history are all part of what makes Alaska a global tourist destination hotspot.

But tourist’s demands for more ‘real Alaska’ experiences have fostered the growth of a new movement — cultural tourism — and a new travel guide insert has been created to address that need.

President and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, and board member of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, Emily Edenshaw discussed how there was room for improvement to meet tourist demand for information about Alaska Native cultures.

Edenshaw, who is Yup’ik and Inupiaq, explained how a new travel guide insert will help bring tourists the “real Alaska” experience they’re hungry for in an authentic and respectful way.

Alaska Natives controlling their own narrative in the context of tourism is part of a larger bid to integrate Indigenous perspectives with tourism, and broader efforts of Indigenous groups to sustainably maintain cultural accuracy.

A statewide contingent of Alaska Native creators and artists jumped on board for the project. This mirrors how in Alaska’s history, Natives did not sit on the periphery but were in fact central to the development of the territory. It’s also more in line with the Alaska of today and of the future, says project contributor and owner of production company Midnight Run LLC, Mary Goddard.

“Regenerative tourism is all about being a steward of the land, being a steward of whatever has been given to you,” Goddard said. “And so, looking at Alaska Native values really supports the regenerative tourism efforts.”

Sarah Leonard, President and CEO of the Alaska Trade Industry Association, explained how that organization allocated some of the money for the project from pandemic-related economic development funds. The economic benefits of the new guide are obvious, given tourism’s status as a major industry in the state. But there’s also an emotional significance that is difficult to quantify.

In less than 20 pages, the small guide offers a broad view of Alaska Native cultures, languages, and societies — from the World Eskimo Olympics in Fairbanks, to the Cama-i dance festival in Bethel.

With the help of this new travel guide, cultural tourism will help cement the Native Alaskan population into a broader context, highlighting the rich complexity of their cultures alongside the pieces of Alaska’s story visitors can already can easily access.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to accurately reflect Edenshaw’s tribal affiliation.