The National Park Service (NPS) has been striving to preserve and highlight the traditions and history of Indigenous cultures in recent years — and now, it’s making one of its most tangible commitments. The NPS announced last week that it was entering a five-year cooperative agreement with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) to ensure a more meaningful dialogue with Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Tribal governments.
“Native American Tribes have ancestral connections to public lands that pre-date the formation of the National Park Service by millennia,” AIANTA CEO Sherry L. Rupert said in a statement. “These wholly unique perspectives can serve as the foundation for one-of-a-kind cultural content for National Park Service sites.”
Among the projects that have already benefited from collaborating with the communities are Arizona’s Desert View Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site featuring art and culture from 11 Tribes from the Grand Canyon area, and the Tribal Stories Along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which runs from California to Arizona with contributions from more than 70 Tribes along the route.
Another is in the works for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which stretches 4,900 miles through 16 states and 15 Indian reservations from Oregon to Pennsylvania.
“Travelers are increasingly seeking authentic experiences and this partnership will highlight opportunities for visitors to engage with Tribal communities and support Native-owned businesses,” the NPS said in a statement.
The announcement was made ahead of Native American Heritage Month, which started on Nov. 1, and hopes to both spotlight and commemorate the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples year-round.
“We are thrilled to formalize our long-standing relationship with the National Park Service under this agreement,” Rupert said. “Our previous partnerships with individual park sites…have successfully driven awareness of the Tribes located along those sites. We look forward to further growing awareness of Tribal tourism opportunities at additional park sites across the country.” A recent AIANTA survey showed that 90% of Tribal community respondents wanted to partner or work with the NPS and other public land agencies.
Shawn Benge, National Park Service deputy director, added: “AIANTA’s national and international tourism programs have benefited local communities and the organization’s past work with the NPS has demonstrated AIANTA’s understanding of the historic connections between Tribes and the NPS.”
The partnership follows the government’s commitment to Indigenous communities and their long history on the nation’s lands, as seen by President Joe Biden’s nomination of Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III as director of the NPS. If confirmed, Sams would be the first Native American to head the agency in its 105-year history, NPR reported.
“The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone,” U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement during his nomination in August. “I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system. The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come.”