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Community Tourism and the Hopi and Navajo
by Sue Beeton


The following case study excerpted from Community Development for Tourism (Landlinks, 2006) illustrates some of the issues facing indigenous communities and their responses to them.


There are hundreds of American Indian tribes, each with their own community structure and relationship with tourism, from intense to virtually zero. Much has been written on gaming on Indian Visitors were welcomed at these ceremonies.

However, by the 1950s there were so many lay anthropologists visiting and imposing on the Hopi community, that it was only a matter of time before there was a reaction from the Hopi people. This came during a Snake Dance around 1956, where the flash bulbs of the tourists' cameras disturbed the snakes in the Snake Dance, killing two of the community's young men. Immediately, all tourists were banned.

Today, the Hopi community continues to be extremely sensitive of its culture, with their pueblos (villages) varyingly open or closed to tourists, depending on local circumstances, such as sacred dances and events. All visitors are restricted as to where they can go and photographing or sketching any Hopi people is strictly forbidden.

In order to limit the number of sightseers, there are no signs announcing that the traveller has entered Hopi Land, unlike the Navajo who proudly announce their Navajo Nation (which surrounds the Hopi Reservation).

However, the Hopi people themselves remain extremely welcoming of tourists who do visit and respect their culture, which they are determined to retain. While many of their youth move away to study, they return to assist at harvest time and to contribute back to their community. Maintaining the Hopi traditional ways is not only a link to their past, but grounds them in today's modern society.

The American Indians of the Arizona region are among the poorest in the nation, apart from those who adopted gaming as a source of tourist income. The Navajo Nation has the largest Indian reservation in the United States, covering some 17.5 million hectares (27,000 square miles) with a population of around 160,000.

The land is extremely barren, with the average income of its population standing around US$4,400 per annum, making them one of the poorest of the Indian groups in the poorest region. Apart from tourism, their primary sources of income are from coal mining and the filming of commercials in the striking desert regions and badlands of Arizona.

The Navajo council decided, in spite of the attractive financial arguments and their own poverty, not to allow gaming on their land, relying on their natural resources as a source of tourism. Part of their land includes Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly -- both strong natural and cultural attractions.

Their tourism tends to rely on these iconic sites, along with so-called ‘Trading Posts' throughout their land selling artifacts and crafts. Many of these Trading Posts are historical sites and attractions in their own right and have become must-see stopovers for visitors. While they desire more visitors, the travel distances are vast and are reliant on vehicle-based transport to get there.

However, they do little to encourage visitors into the communities, which are dispersed and poor, in a barren environment with little to attract the tourist. Consequently, they retain some privacy, but the benefits of tourism rarely trickle down to many of these communities.

Travelling through this region, the different responses to tourism from these two groups is marked -- the Hopi who have an enormous tourism appeal are trying to limit their tourism, while the Navajo, with limited tourism appeal and dispersed sites are keen to encourage it.

Such is the contrary nature of tourism and communities. If we want to develop communities through tourism, care must be taken and the requirements of those communities taken into consideration.


Sue Beeton is an associate professor at La Trobe University and the author of Community Development for Tourism. The book is published by Landlinks.




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