- Wrong Directions and New Maps of Voice, Representation, and EngagementTheorizing Cultural Tourism, Indigenous Commodities, and the Intelligence of Participation
Each year tourists flock to communities that promise a connection . . . a mythologized place. . . . [T]he draw . . . isn’t just history, it’s an industry.1
But maybe it’s better to be vilified and romanticized than completely ignored.2
Cultural tourism that is located in reflection and that is about Indigenous peoples and cultures has been occurring in the United States and across the globe for decades. World’s fairs, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Edward Curtis’s photographs, postcards, roadside shops, and various entertainment venues have consistently been replicated and have generated tourist travel. Although cultural tourism is a more publicly known concept/label, the projected fascination and implied privilege of viewing the other has long been part of travel and globalization. As quoted above, each year tourists flock to places of historical and mythologized locations. Beyond pouring thousands and thousands of dollars into the industry, tourists construct and facilitate an engagement of a “tourist gaze” that Indigenous peoples and communities are actively and intelligently negotiating.3 This engagement at times is in the romantic or mythical, at times in the modern and contemporary, and at times in the spaces (the third space) in between. These engagements are dominantly in resistance to mere objectification or commodification; my work will demonstrate instead how they are voices of Indigeneity. My work, by exploring definitions and acts of authenticity, identity locations, and the meaning and value of Indigenous commodities, disrupts modernity’s reliance on Indians as others. This disruption forces the development and [End Page 545] recognition of new maps, that is, new ways of understanding locations of culture, identity representations, interpretations of cultural commodities, and the intelligence of participation in the third space.
My research delves into the impact of established intellectual imperialistic representations and codes of culture imposed on Indigenous populations. I offer new ways of viewing the critiques of Indigenous peoples and discussions of those representation acts by situating them within Indigenous identity and the manifestations of Indigenous representations in the burgeoning field of transnational Indigenous work. Specifically, my work investigates the selling of culture through the interpretation of cultural value attached to commodities (which include cultural items for sale as well as display items found in museums and tourist locations) and the negotiation of cultural participation (as informed and knowledgeable performers and sellers of culture) by Indigenous peoples and communities. Data from various locations and events marked as Indigenous in New Zealand, the United States, and representing American Indians abroad are utilized to illustrate the relationships between cultural tourism in transnational Indigenous commodities and participants’ allegiances. In investigating and analyzing the data, I contextualize authenticity, indigeneity, and tradition in the global diasporas of transnational boundary breaking and contemporary sustainable economic, political, social, environmental, and cultural movements. As Shari Huhndorf explains and my work builds off of,
nationalist literature and criticism are primarily concerned with the cultural distinctiveness and political autonomy of individual tribes and with the redrawing of community boundaries after colonization. Although Native art and literature since the 1980’s similarly engage issues of land ownership and political control, they do so in a context that has been increasingly shaped by global—that is, transnational—movements of capital and empire which have refashioned indigenous cultural expressions along with social and political structures.4
My research explores the historical nationalistic disposition and boundary making in tourists’ representations of Indigenous cultures and remaps it in terms of transnational contexts, implications, and outcomes that I show Indigeneity redrawing more actively. In addition, I suggest that literature (books) and art (from postcards, to posters, to pottery and [End Page 546] rugs and jewelry crafts), which are implicit tools of commodity production and often part of material culture tourist purchase, connect with the transnational movements of capital and empire Huhndorf discusses.
Gerald Vizenor, in his essay “Edward Curtis: Pictorialist and Ethnographic Adventurist,” asks, “Why would natives pose to create a portrait?” and “Why, several generations later would natives embrace these romantic pictures?” He replies to both queries and states that possibly it was “money and tricky camera...