Selling culture without selling out: producing new indigenous tourism(s)
Location H
Date and Time 11th December, 2008 at 10:30


Alexis Bunten (Humboldt State University)
Chellie Spiller (University of Auckland)
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Short Abstract

The panel titled, "Selling Culture Without Selling Out: Producing New Indigenous Tourism(s)" presents case studies that explore Indigenous communities' varied approaches to commodifying their own cultures while adhering to local protocols that govern cultural patrimony and intellectual property.

Long Abstract

In the past, tourism has served as a crucial site where members of dominant societies consume and appropriate the cultures of subaltern groups often forced through necessity to participate in an industry that capitalizes on difference. Today, sustainable tourism is poised as an economic panacea for communities whose traditional ways of life have been compromised by the dominant societies to which they belong. Indigenous communities are responding to this opportunity (or threat depending on perspective) in innovative ways that set them apart from their non-Indigenous predecessors and competitors.

Indigenous participation in tourism forces collective introspection. With the choice to commodify one's culture comes great responsibility over cultural, material and spiritual resources. Developing a model for Indigenous cultural tourism that is competitive within the dominant political economy and upholds cultural patrimony is not an easy task. Beyond the practicalities of daily operations, Indigenous leaders must measure the potential for political, financial and cultural benefits of participation in tourism against cultural degradation that can result from packaging culture according to outside tastes and consumptive patterns. Approaches that support economic growth in tourism can be in direct conflict with traditional protocols governing cultural resources, intellectual property and secrecy, a tactic employed by many Indigenous communities to survive generations of physical and cultural genocide. Drawing from a range of case studies in New Zealand, Australia and beyond, this panel explores the innovative solutions that Indigenous leaders have developed to boost local economies through cultural tourism while upholding traditional values that govern cultural patrimony.

Discussant: Manuka Henare

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


More Like Ourselves: Ethics, Representation and Commerce in Indigenous Tourism

Author: Alexis Bunten (Humboldt State University)

Short Abstract

Based on case studies from the US and New Zealand, this paper presents the core components of Indigenous business models in tourism.


Drawing from case studies of indigenous-owned tourism operations in the US and New Zealand, this paper explores emergent cross-cultural business models rooted in non-Western values. Indigenous leaders are challenged with developing the strategies to succeed within the political economy of tourism, a system that is often in conflict with traditional protocols governing cultural resources and social relations. Indigenous values that reflect a commitment to the needs of the community are a core component of the business models of the case studies presented. Profitability may go hand in hand these values, but it does not trump them.

Unlike tourism enterprises operated by non-Natives, indigenous tourism is almost always tied to strategies that employ identity politics in larger arenas of concern for the host community. A system of checks and balances regulates operations to ensure the stewardship of tangible and intangible community property for present and future generations. This process often results in a highly competitive product that reflects the real lives of its workers rather than a simulacrum that blindly accommodates the tourist gaze. As a critical locus where ethics, commerce and representation cross-pollinate, an examination of indigenous tourism models offers great insight into contemporary practices in which economic independence, self-determination, cultural sovereignty and the maintenance of tradition are interwoven.

Embedded enterprise: Issues surrounding cultural tourism development for diasporan Pacific cultures

Author: Jenny Cave (Waikato University)

Short Abstract


This paper discusses some of the critical issues that surround proposals for tourism attractions and enterprise development under consideration by Pacific peoples resident in New Zealand. Unlike other projects initiated from a standpoint of redress, this work was premised upon belief that societal marginality can be a positive position from which to preserve cultural uniqueness and develop a competitive place for Pacific enterprise in the mainstream marketplace.

A team of Pacific and non-Pacific researchers from Waikato University's Management School completed ten studies over a five year period. Responsive throughout to Pacific community concerns, these explored a hermeneutic -like circle of aspirations, interest in and capacity for cultural tourism amongst nine Pacific ethnicities; balanced against local, regional and international consumption of Pacific cultural product. Analytical techniques were primarily social constructionist, aimed at creating common meanings between several cultures.

Issues identified include: dynamics of protecting ethnic uniqueness and traditional cultural producers from commercialisation, inter-generational diffusion of values and language, precedence of diasporan familial and cultural obligations, misconceptions about and distance from potential markets, and notions of future wealth based upon current relationships. Each community encounters its own challenges, yet place and culture-specific solutions were identified which reconcile preserve cultural embeddness and ensure business viability. This work has implications for understanding of the issues that enable and inhibit community enterprise development, for both western and non-western contexts.

The commodification of Dogon culture: recycling, emulating, faking and displaying material identities.

Author: Laurence Douny (University College, London)

Short Abstract

This paper examines the commodification process of Dogon culture through the recycling of ‘traditional’ cultural elements, as a means to develop local rural economy through tourism.


As classified in 1989 by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site, the Dogon region and more particularly the Bandiagara escarpment stands as a highly 'touristified' place (Lane 1988, Doquet 1999, Ciarcia 1998, Cisse 2003). Its appeal rests on the elaboration of an 'authentic' cultural landscape that is nurtured both locally and worldwide through notably a mass tourism, anthropology, NGOs and the Malian government's Cultural Mission. Dogon villagers as entrepreneurs increasingly venture into business activities through notably performances such as masquerades (Doquet 1999, Richards 2000) and the production of craft. Both strongly contribute to the re-creation and consolidation of Dogon material authenticity and identities. In this paper, I propose to examine the emancipation of a local market based on the 're-cycling' of traditional and folkloric elements that are no longer used by the villagers and that leads to the development of a local economy that does not compromise people's cultural, intellectual and spiritual property. This is explored here through on the one hand, the production of craft (textile, wood carving and smithing) by the dyers and blacksmiths and on the other hand, the performance or 'self display' of spiritual figures in a village of the escarpment. I shall focus on the production, emulation, faking, display and selling of Dogon culture by Dogon people through strategies of adapting and transforming local material culture in order to suit the expectations of the tourists and by concealing Dogon's cultural values.

Tourists and the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia: Who's Exploiting Whom?

Author: Kirk Endicott (Dartmouth College)

Short Abstract

Recently Batek hunter-gatherers have become tourist attractions in the National Park (Taman Negara) in Peninsular Malaysia. This paper explores how Batek represent their culture to outsiders without compromising their values or revealing the true meanings of their beliefs and practices.


The Batek De' are a group of about 800 hunter-gatherers and traders of forest products living in the tropical rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia. The Batek, like other Semang, have a long tradition of trading with farming peoples, including other Aboriginal (Orang Asli) groups and Malays, but they have also maintained social and cultural barriers between themselves and outsiders. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries especially, when they were subject to slave-raiding by Malays, they avoided contact with outsiders, except trusted trading partners, while living in small, nomadic groups deep in the forest. They also deliberately concealed their beliefs, customs, and even their names from outsiders.

Although logging since the 1980s has destroyed the forest in much of the Batek's traditional territory, many of them still live in the National Park (Taman Negara), where the forest has been preserved. There they come into contact with local and international tourists, especially near the park headquarters at Kuala Tahan. Over the last several decades, Malay tourist guides began including Batek camps in their tours of the wonders of the rainforest, and recently Batek established a special camp on the Tembeling River just above Kuala Tahan where they demonstrate their bush skills, such as making fire with sticks, and sell handicrafts, such as miniature blowpipes, to parties of tourists. In this paper I explore how the Batek represent themselves and their culture to outsiders for profit without compromising their own values or revealing the true meanings of their beliefs and practices.

The touristic packaging of Sydney 'Dreamings' at the expense of local Aboriginal custodial knowledge

Authors: Dennis Foley (Newcastle University)
Jill Barnes (The University of Sydney)

Short Abstract

This paper locates recent conflict between Aboriginal tourism gatekeepers and unifying traditional custodians they seek to silence within an Australian tradition of contested patrimony that begins with Spencer and Gillen coining the term 'dreamtime' and includes early touristic renderings of Uluru.


This paper draws historical links between Spencer and Gillen's transmission of the concept of 'totemic' landscapes to Australia from the United States and coining of the term 'dreamtime', controversy surrounding early touristic renderings of Aboriginal 'dreamings' at Uluru and contemporary conflict in Sydney between traditional custodians and Aboriginal organisations who have been empowered by governments to act as knowledge gatekeepers in the packaging of Aboriginal cultural heritage. It raises issues including the silencing of traditional owners and cultural re-invention, and explores some creative responses that have emerged out of collective introspection.

A case study shows how Indigenous usurpers of land and culture within NGO's supported by local and state governments have used the concept of 'The Dreaming' for their own political, financial and social gain at the expense of traditional custodians. It reveals that Aboriginal people who relocated from rural to metropolitan NSW now control the packaging of Indigenous cultural heritage for the tourism industry and outlines how once adversarial clan groups of the Sydney basin are beginning to unite to contest this generalist approach to Aboriginal knowledge and the claims that Sydney's original peoples are extinct.

Experiments in Inuit Tourism: the Eastern Canadian Arctic

Author: Nelson Graburn (University of California, Berkeley)

Short Abstract

This paper explores the potential futures for Inuit tourism, and queries the notion of "selling out" considering the Inuit and non-Inuit cooperation in the mixed economy that characterizes Canada's far north.


Tourism in the Eastern Canadian Arctic has been operating sporadically for

half a century with an attractive combination of hunting, fishing, and Inuit art and crafts. The earliest organized efforts to the Eastern Canadian arctic were made by Austin Airways and the Povungnituk Inuit Cooperative spearheaded by Father Steinmann and NSO Pat Furneaux, and on Baffin Island by the West Baffin Island Coop originally led by Jim Houston. In the 60's, American sportsman Bobby May, married to an Inuit woman, ran a hunting lodge at Kangirjjualukjuak flying his own plane. These operations can be considered in terms of intimate collaborations between Inuit and non-Inuit entrepreneurs working side by side to accommodate (intermittent) guests.

Since Inuit gained control of available capital resources through land claims and the creation of Nunavut and Nunavik, tourism has re-emerged as a tool for economic vitalization. This has been realized through the controversial licensing of Polar Bear sport hunting by many villages, scattered lodges providing hunting, fishing, and excursions (by ATV and sled dog), and artist coops. Many businesses are self-financed and subsidized and follow a cross-cultural pattern of operation and ownership characterized by intimate Inuit/non-Inuit ties. This paper explores the potential futures for Inuit tourism, and queries the notion of "selling out" considering the Inuit and non-Inuit cooperation in the mixed economy that characterizes Canada's far north. The common form of ethnic tourism: Inuit "acting" their culture for a passive audience only emerges with Inuit artists and the rare arrival of cruise ships.

How Maori cultural tourism businesses create sustainable wealth: the five well-beings model

Author: Chellie Spiller (University of Auckland)

Short Abstract

Maori businesses demonstrate that businesses can succeed in not only creating financial wealth but also wealth across the spiritual, cultural, social and environmental realms. Sustainable wealth creation involves Maori cultural tourism business increasing well-being for all their stakeholders including shareholders, clients, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment.


The fundamental research question this multi-case doctoral thesis addressed was "How are Maori cultural tourism businesses creating sustainable wealth?" The purpose of the research was to assist Maori tourism businesses to more effectively respond to the need for sustainable development in the tourism sector from within their own contexts.

In addition to the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable business, which are often referred to as the triple bottom line, this research identified two further key dimensions for sustainable tourism businesses: the cultural and spiritual dimensions.

By bringing these dimensions together in cultural tourism, Maori businesses demonstrate that businesses can succeed in not only creating financial wealth but also wealth across the spiritual, cultural, social and environmental realms. These realms can be summarised in the word "ora" which is the Maori term for wellbeing. Sustainable wealth creation involves Maori cultural tourism business increasing ora for all their stakeholders including shareholders, clients, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment.

The Five Well-beings model also provides clear guidelines for non-indigenous tourism businesses that incorporate indigenous cultural tourism aspects in their activities and shows how they can adopt approaches that are sensitive to the needs of indigenous communities and ecologies.

Indigenous culture in a 'real' Embera community of tourist professionals in Panama

Author: Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (University of Kent)

Short Abstract

This paper investigates recent changes to the representation of indigenous Embera tradition as these are realised through cultural presentations regularly performed for tourists in Parara Puru, a community of Embera tourism professionals in Panama.


In many respects Parara Puru is a typical Embera community: it is build in the rainforest, next to a river, it has a school (the only visible state institution in the community), and thatched roofed houses on stilts. However, unlike most other Embera communities in Panama, Parara Puru receives regular visits from groups of international tourists, and its inhabitants, unlike the Embera in non-touristic communities, enact, with remarkable consistency, an increasing number of Embera cultural traditions.

This paper investigates a number of transformations in the representation of indigenous (Embera) tradition as these become apparent in the cultural presentations performed for the tourists in Parara Puru, a community of Embera tourism professionals. Within the safety of their immediate community, the inhabitants of Parara Puru become authors of their cultural performances and celebrate their indigenous identity with artistry and respect, exploring new routes to cultural authenticity. They are also in a position to make a relatively comfortable living without having to leave their community, migrate to the city, and compromise their Embera identity through assimilation into the surrounding Ladino culture and society. Adopting a non-essentialist approach to the notion of cultural authenticity, I explore (a) the opportunities offered by tourism for transmitting indigenous culture to the next generation, (b) the possibility of obtaining knowledge about 'authentic' Embera practices through tourist performances, and (c) the new visibility of Embera culture realised through the tourism encounter.

Maori cultural tourism or just being ourselves? Validating cultural inheritance

Author: Keri-Anne Wikitera (AUT)

Short Abstract

This paper extends on a domestic tourism study that looked at the economic impact of educational trips to three tribally owned destinations in Aotearoa. The host and visitor responses in the study support and validate the value of alternative approaches of indigenous peoples in tourism development.


Tourism forms one of four major Maori economic development sectors in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The importance of indigenous tourism development is not limited to indigenous peoples as global influences impact on every nation's ability to differentiate themselves as unique destinations.

This paper extends on a domestic tourism study that looked at the economic impact of educational trips to three different marae destinations. Marae are the cultural centers of tribal indigenous people of Aotearoa, the Maori. The study focused on the economic impact of marae visits. In addition to the economic impact findings other significant factors emerged. Marae operators (tribal owners, guardians) rely heavily on a complex 'informal economy' that includes cultural processes such as kaitiakitanga; koha and manaakitanga (these concepts include notions of reciprocity, cultural obligation and guardianship). These processes are not measured in traditional tourism development indices however the findings from the visitor experiences in the case studies show that they are significant to the cultural tourism product and the enhancement of indigenous mechanisms of guardianship and protection of cultural property. Visitor responses such as "a life changing experience", "a spiritual awakening" and "a never to be forgotten experience" present a snap shot of the common themes of the survey respondents. The cultural processes embedded in traditional tribal practice on marae are not easily replicated, unable to be delivered by non-indigenous peoples and maintain cultural integrity of the hosts while at the same time regenerating the 'authentic' tourism product the emergent global travelers are seeking.