“This is our opportunity to tell our story, with our voice, through Native guides,” said Mike Mabin (Turtle Mountain), board member of the North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance, which is spearheading the nonprofit NativeWays Tour Company.
Starting this summer, NativeWays will offer tourists authentic exposure to the intriguing world of Indian country through chartered bus tours to pow wows, music festivals, art events, heritage centers, nature and more.
Day tours will explore the Bismarck-Mandan area, including the State Heritage Center, On a Slant and Knife River Villages, and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan. Multi-day tours will coincide with major cultural events at or near North Dakota’s five tribal reservations. “NativeWays packages the various tribal experiences, offering a one-stop shop for the traveler, especially group travelers,” said Mabin, who also serves as president/CEO of the Bismarck, North Dakota-based Marketing & Advertising Business Unlimited, Inc.(DBA Agency MABU).
The Turtle Mountain Adventure will be held in conjunction with the Keplin Music Festivals, July 7-9, 2017, and from August 4-5, 2017. The Sakakawea Trail Adventure will coordinate with the MHA Nation’s Mandaree Powwow, July 14-16, and Little Shell Powwow/MHA Summer Fest, August 11-13. The Sitting Bull Country Adventure will be hosted with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) International Powwow, September 8-10, 2017.
Native guides will do more than shuttle passengers between sites. They’ll educate the general public about pow wows and cultural tradition. “Even though the messaging is ‘everyone is welcome,’ a lot of non-Natives are not really sure of the protocol — what they can and can’t do,” Mabin said. “Part of our goal with NativeWays, providing Native-guided tours and entry into our events, is to help, especially the non-Natives, feel more comfortable with participating.”
“The more we can educate the non-Indian community about Indian cultures, the better,” added Les Thomas, president of the North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance. Credit is due to Thomas for his vision to unite North Dakota’s tribal nations in a joint tourism initiative.
The idea sparked at the local level, when the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians hired George Washington University to put together a master tourism plan for the Turtle Mountain area, including its surrounding communities.
Quickly realizing their potential to tap into and expand on North Dakota’s existing $3.1 billion tourism industry, Thomas sought to cast a wider net and involve all the tribes of North Dakota “to preserve, protect and promote each tribe, the Indian cultures of each reservation,” Thomas said. “Each tribe is different. We have the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Spirit Lake Sioux, and the Three Affiliated Tribes: the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation.”
Turtle Mountain Adventure
Hosted during the Keplin Music Festivals, July 7-9, and August 4-5, Turtle Mountain Adventures will give insight into the music’s unique correlation to Turtle Mountain heritage. “When the French fur trappers came from the Hudson Bay Trading Company out of Canada and mixed with our people, a new culture was formed called the Metis (the “s” is silent),” Thomas said. “With them they brought fiddles, and jigging and dancing were created.”
Young Turtle Mountain performers dance to the jig. “Have you ever seen the Red River Jig? Ours is similar to that. We have an abundance of entertainers from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” Thomas added.
Sakakawea Trail Adventure
Coinciding with the MHA Nation’s Mandaree Powwow, July 14-16, and Little Shell Powwow/MHA Summer Fest, August 11-13, the Sakakawea Trail Adventure brings international travelers to the beautiful Fort Berthold Reservation, which completely surrounds Lake Sakakawea. The third largest man-made lake in the United States, it’s home to some of the best fishing in the country. The Three Affiliated Tribes have plans to increase accessibility to Lake Sakakawea near Four Bears Casino, adding swimming areas, fishing docks, and canoe, kayak and bike rentals.
Dome-shaped structures formed with logs and earth comprise the Three Affiliated Tribes’ Earth Lodge Village. Currently, visitors can sleep in teepees at a nearby camping ground. Soon, the tribe plans to make the earth lodges available for overnight stays.
Sitting Bull Country Adventure
The 48-year-old event draws more than 1,500 dancers and many more attendees, wraps up a long pow wow season in September. “The UTTC powwow is known worldwide and has participation among the Native community, but there’s so much opportunity to welcome and invite the non-Native community into those events,” Mabin said.
Boon to Small Business
Local Native-owned businesses are also vital to the state’s developing tourism industry. The North Dakota Indian Business Alliance is focused on promoting business growth and entrepreneurial startup. There’s so much opportunity for Native-owned small businesses to take advantage of tribal tourism in the state, whether they’re Native guides; a hiking, hunting or fishing company; or a Native youth dance group; or arts and crafts, said Stacey LaCompte, North Dakota Indian Business Alliance (NDIBA) executive director. The NDIBA provided technical assistance to establish the organizational structure of the ND Native Tourism Alliance, in addition to a $1,000 marketing grant to print postcards and more.
Two representatives from each tribe, plus one from the Trenton Service Area, a branch of Turtle Mountain, form the ND Native Tourism Alliance’s board of directors. The founders and initial board of directors include: Thomas; Mabin; Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission (Standing Rock); Brek Maxon, project director of the Minority Business Development Association Business Center in Bismarck (Three Affiliated Tribes); Robert Shepherd (Sisseton Wahpeton); and Stacey LaCompte, executive director of North Dakota Indian Business Alliance (Standing Rock).
Aided by its partnership with NDIBA, NativeWays Tour Company also serves to unite and strengthen North Dakota’s sovereign tribal nations, providing jobs and economic benefit to tribes and their members. A website presence is still underway for the ND Native Tourism Alliance and NativeWays.
The North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance is looking for sponsors to help finance their initiatives. Interested contributors can send donations to the address below and reach out to Stacey LaCompte, executive director of North Dakota Indian Business Alliance, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (NDNTA), P.O. Box 355, Bismarck, ND 58502-0355