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Tourism in Arizona's Indian Country

Arizona’s 22 Indian tribes have a lot to offer to visitors from around the country and around the world, and Dawn Melvin is working hard to make that connection.

Melvin, tribal tourism relations manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism, said a lot has changed in Arizona’s Indian Country over the 13 years she’s been with AOT.

“If you look at Salt River, the growth in their hospitality area, designating specific areas for entertainment, that is how you kind of contain the visitors,” she said of SRPMIC’s Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination, which includes the award-winning Talking Stick Resort and many other attractions.

Over the years, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and other tribal communities have become savvier when it comes to marketing, which is beneficial to any tourism opportunities, Melvin said.

The AOT, a state department, promotes Arizona tourism locally, nationally and worldwide. Part of its focus is creating itineraries for visitors targeting specific areas of interest, such as culinary, adventure, heritage, and culture and wellness tours.

It’s Melvin’s priority to use this “pillar” aspect to promote tourism for tribal communities in Arizona, from the Hualapai to the Pascua Yaqui and any tribal community in between.

“It’s very important that we include tribes in whatever we are talking about, because tribes are doing so many different things,” she said. “So my job is to create relationships in different tribal communities.”

The AOT is a AIANTA conference sponsor and Melvin is a regular conference attendee. She said attending is important to promote Arizona tribes, to learn from other tribes and to bring back the information and incorporate it in Arizona.

Melvin said some tribal communities worry that increased tourism could lead to unwanted trespassers.

“I think many times tribes have a fear of visitors who are going to roam the land and desecrate all their private areas. But when tribes can control and identify [specific] areas for visitors to go to, then it’s a win-win situation, because people want to know about us,” Melvin said. “People come from all over the world to hear about Indian tourism, the culture, the people; they want to talk to you.”

For more information on Arizona tourism and tribal tourism, visit

Benefiting From Tourism in Indian Country

A nonprofit based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is working the front lines of tourism with a focus on Indian Country.

The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) is a champion for Indian Country tourism, and if your tribal community is in the tourism market, it wants to work with you. Proof is just a click away.

AIANTA’s interactive website,, is a helpful source for travelers curious about visiting Native communities. Each of the 567 federally recognized tribes has its own page, and tribes working with AIANTA have more of a robust page and a presence on the site’s main page.

The website is just one of several initiatives by AIANTA to help tribes take advantage of the growing tourism economy.

“The mission of AIANTA is to introduce and grow tourism throughout Indian Country,” AIANTA President Sherry Rupert said. “It really provides a forum for our Indian people to have that platform to tell the world who they really are, in their own words.”

The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin recently hosted AIANTA’s annual conference, which had an attendance of about 300.

Ivan Sorbel, executive director of the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, praised AIANTA’s effort to unite tribal communities’ tourism outreach. Sorbel had an exhibitor booth at the conference.

“I’m here promoting our area in hopes that some sort of collaboration can happen as Indian Country starts to organize, and AIANTA is a good organizer for that,” he said.

AIANTA’s target market goes beyond the borders of the U.S. Other top tourism targets include Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy.

AIANTA projects 2.5 million international visitors to Indian Country by 2020 and $10 billion in direct spending to the U.S. economy by the same visitors.

“These markets mean economic growth not only for Indian Country, but for the U.S. as well. International tourism offers a particularly exciting future, as overseas visitors to Indian Country tend to stay longer and spend more money than other travelers,” according to AIANTA website.

For more information on AIANTA, visit