August 02, 2012

Pine Ridge needs tourism

Impoverished SD Indian tribe debates developmentThe Oglala Sioux Tribe occupies a seemingly prime piece of South Dakota—a vast, scenic reservation that stands near a crossroads for tourists visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the historic Old West town of Deadwood and other popular sites.

But don't look for museums, hotels, restaurants or even many bathrooms here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, because the Lakota make little effort to attract visitors or tourism dollars, despite the fact that they are one of the nation's poorest tribes.

A generation after many other American Indians sought to harness their history for profit, the Oglala Sioux are still debating how much culture they are willing to share.

"When you take a community of people where at one point our language was outlawed and parts of our culture were outlawed, it's hard for us to, I guess, open up to the idea of sharing that in a way to make money off of it," said Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley, a nonprofit on Pine Ridge set up to keep traditional Lakota culture alive among young people.
Some discussion of the Wounded Knee site, which is the primary attraction on the reservation by default:Some tribal members think the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where more than 250 men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890, should be turned into a tourist attraction with a museum. Others are fiercely opposed to development, saying it would be disrespectful to the dead.

The talk of development "hasn't matured yet," said Ivan Sorbel, executive director of the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
And:A museum commemorating the massacre was ransacked and its contents lost in 1973. Another museum dedicated to the massacre draws thousands of people annually, but it's 100 miles north of the reservation in Wall, S.D.—also home to Wall Drug, a famous cluster of stores and tourist attractions offering Western kitsch.

The Wall museum is not affiliated with the Oglala Sioux, although co-founder Lani Van Eck said the facility had the blessing of Wounded Knee residents when it opened in 2003. She and the other co-founders decided to build it along busy Interstate 90 to attract more visitors.
Comment:  As a first-time visitor to South Dakota, I can confirm this article's points. The state doesn't do enough to promote tourism on Pine Ridge and neither does the tribe. I discussed some of this in Economic Development on Pine Ridge.

Incidentally, I posted about the Wounded Knee Museum last December. But I forgot about it when I visited South Dakota, and there was no info to remind me of it.

I don't know how well it's doing. "Thousands of visitors annually" could translate to a meager 10-20 a day. But it's a shame that it's not on or near the rez. Pine Ridge needs several attractions like it to draw people from Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Deadwood.

Wounded Knee is a tough nut to crack from a tourist standpoint. The site is too modest to permit any development or traffic without ruining its solemn character. On the other hand, you don't want visitors to ignore it. You want to get them thinking about it--educate them about it.

If the Lakota had a museum, maybe it could have a huge room with a quarter-size replica of the site. So people could immerse themselves in it, get a feel for what happened, without harming the actual site. Or something like that.

A few visitors still would go to the actual site, miles away, just as they do now. But that or something like it would satisfy most visitors. There must be a way to have your Wounded Knee but protect it too.

In any case, tourism is an untapped possibility for the Lakota. They should get together with the state and start marketing the region's Native heritage. If they're doing it already, they should do more of it.

No doubt money is a big issue here, but still. Where there's a will, there's a way and all that. You can't win the game unless you play it.

For more on the subject, see Pix of My South Dakota Trip and Why Wounded Knee Matters.

Below:  "In a Friday, July 20, 2012, photo, from the left; Tricia Bear Eagle, Helen Red Feather, Rudell Bear Shirt and Edward Jealous Of Him, all of Wounded Knee, S.D., wait for tourists near the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at a self-made visitors center. A generation after many other American Indians sought to harness their history for profit, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is still debating how much culture they are willing to share with tourists." (AP Photo/Kristi Eaton)

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