Tribes sit on a 'gold mine' of potential
He spoke at a session Wednesday at the Governor's Conference on Tourism here subtitled "Clearing up the misconceptions about travel and tourism on the reservations."
Gerard Baker also knows those misconceptions. He's a Hidatsa-Mandan originally from Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Baker also is the first Native American superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. He wears his hair in traditional braids, even with his National Park Service uniform, so he often gets questions from tourists at Rushmore.
"One of the first things they ask is, 'Where are the Indians?'" Baker said Wednesday.
The problem isn't just one of perception, it's also a disparity of scale. Mount Rushmore gets 3 million visitors a year, Deadwood gets more than a million, and Sturgis draws half a million bikers for a two-week motorcycle rally. South Dakota's reservations get only a small fraction of those visitors.
Baker said moving tourists from Sturgis, Deadwood and Mount Rushmore to sparsely populated reservations will take education--beginning with professionals. "Many tour groups have been reluctant to go to reservations because of misconceptions--that they're scary places, that you've got to lock your doors, and on and on and on."
Baker is working to dispel those notions.