In honor of World Indigenous Peoples Day, here is a sampler of indigenous wisdom teachings from the Q’ero (Peru) and Onandaga (NY). Click above to enjoy more videos and quotes in magazine format.
Ayni is a Quechua word meaning reciprocity. Ayni permeates daily life among the indigenous people of the Andes Mountains as it is not just a sustainability principle but is also practiced in despacho (offering) ceremonies to the Apus (mountain spirits), Awkikuna (nature spirits) and Pachamama. To learn more about Ayni, watch this video from Dr. J.E. Williams at Ayniglobal.
Seven Generations Principle Native North Americans honor the sacredness of all life through the seven generations principle. “Seven generations ago somebody was looking out for me and that’s why I am here. Seven generations from now, I hope, there is somebody there.”-Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation
It is difficult finding indigenous travel experiences that communicate the importance of indigenous wisdom within the tourism framework. Ayniglobal.org is a great example. They are “dedicated to preserving authentic traditions and passing on indigenous wisdom.” Unfortunately, most indigenous travel day trip itineraries are too superficial. They usually include a dance/artisan display, authentic food, meeting local people and exploring nature; but, many trips usually do not include information about the indigenous group’s spiritual beliefs and practices, their cultural philosophies or even their views about everyday life.
There can be a conscious effort to talk about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of indigenous peoples’ beliefs even on a day trip. For example, instead of travelers learning just about food, also talk about the cultural and/or spiritual symbolism of certain types of food. When out walking through nature, instead of just showing travelers a mountainside important to indigenous people, explain why it is important! Many indigenous people revere all nature as sacred and certain areas of nature are equivalent to a church or temple. There is a direct personal relationship to nature and everything in it. Some indigenous people, like the Q’ero people in the Andes Mountains, “have individual names and uses for all plants, grass, birds and animals” (Williams,100).
When planning indigenous travel, it is important for tourism businesses to learn how to communicate with indigenous communities in a respectful way. Dr. Susan Guyette, in a webinar about Sustainable Cultural Tourism, suggests asking these questions:
“Are sacred sites being protected? Are welcoming songs being practiced and documented? Are indigenous entrepreneurs being assisted, being trained and given promotion? Is ecological restoration taking place?” Have respect by listening. Listening is a central aspect of communicating with indigenous community. Make sure that decisions come from within a community.”
Indigenous travel has the potential to empower indigenous communities economically as well as culturally and spiritually. If done in a respectful manner, indigenous communities have the opportunity to preserve culture as well as alleviate poverty. Dr. J.E. Williams from Ayniglobal, shares his thoughts on how social businesses can empower indigenous people:
“A social business for indigenous people gives everyone in the community the opportunity to participate, just like they would in growing crops, in creating the kind of lifestyle they deserve. They have the opportunity to mobilize their innate talents and to employ their creativity and skills for solving their own problems, for determining their own destiny, for banishing poverty from their lives by their own efforts, and freeing their children from the damaging effects of generations in poverty.”
Guyette, S. (2012, November 12). Sustainable Cultural Tourism [Webinar]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/53652132
Williams, J.E. (2005). The Andean Codex: Adventures and Initiations among the Peruvian Shamans. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing.
Williams, J.E. (2013, May 19). Social Business: Not Just a Dream, a Reality – Founding of a Q’ero Run Tour Company [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://ayniglobal.org/social-business-not-just-a-dream-a-reality-founding-of-a-qero-run-tour-company/
In the Miccosukee Tribe, Buffalo Tiger was a legendary activist in establishing tribal governance. He started Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours, which is family owned and operated where you can see “Tree Island”, Buffalo’s ancestral homeland.
The Miccosukee Indian Village not only has a museum but also artisans demonstrating Miccosukee patchwork, woodcarving, etc. My sister studied native art in college and she thoroughly enjoyed the level of craftsmanship and authenticity at the village. To learn more about the Miccosukee Tribe, here’s an interview with current chairman Colley Billie, nephew of Buffalo Tiger.
In the Seminole Tribe, it is Abiaki/Sam Jones who was a legend in Seminole history, but currently the Billie family and the Seminole Tribe of Florida are associated with several cultural tourism businesses, like the Billie Swamp Safari, located on Big Cypress Reservation. The Seminole keep their culture alive through the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum, offering authentic artisan work both live and in the museum. To learn more about the Seminole Nation, this interview with Victor Billie provides more details.
The annual Sarasota Native American Indian Festival is also an authentic Native American arts and crafts event usually held at the end of January. Rex Begaye was instrumental in bringing in authentic artists and musicians to the festival, and his legacy continues on today.
For an overview of Native American Florida, the Florida Division of Historical Resources has an informative guidebook full of historical details, stories, pictures and maps about the Florida Native American Heritage Trail.
While viewing the Responsible Travel and Wildlife Conservation Hangout, I was inspired by Martin Hatchuel‘s conversation with Nombulelo Mkefa where she said, “Sustainable travel is the destination, responsible travel is the journey.” What are the principles that embody responsible travel?
1. Respect and care for the environment whether it’s land, air, water, animal or plant life.
2. Indigenous culture should be represented in an authentic way so that it is not a commodity, but a celebration of the culture and sacred sites with respect and dignity.
3. In the case of hotels, workers should receive competitive wages, work in a safe and clean environment, and live in the local area.
4. Travelers and businesses are responsible for buying local.
Tourism in the USA has a long way to go to meeting these goals, but with innovation, discussion and action, maybe tourism can work in harmony with the environment.
Over the last five years or so, I have become more aware of sacred sites both locally and abroad. In an effort to understand my experiences at sacred sites, I have looked for information about the native cultures that lived at those sacred sites.
For example, when I went to Peru and visited Machu Picchu, I was enveloped in the most wonderful energy, but noticed that the energy improved as one climbed higher in altitude. However, even mountains as powerful as they are, have to be honored from the work of the shaman, and by giving offerings and performing ceremony, the mountain spirits, and their energy are transformed. “The wellbeing of huacas [quechua word for sacred] depends on the constant flow of offerings from the living to deceased ancestors, and the spiritual domain as a form of reciprocity.” (Staller, 2008, p.276)
Here in Florida, the mounds here as well as throughout the mound culture in the rest of the US, are places of great power and complex energy. The complexity is most likely a result of years of environmental degradation and disrespect for these special places. Because there is a highly elevated energy associated with power places or sacred sites, when the land they are on is disrespected or degraded, the energy becomes more turbulent and sometimes very unhappy. “Sacred sites are living places. They have their own feelings like humans. And just like humans, they can be happy or sad” (Sabella Kaguna, Custodian, Tharaka, Kenya)
Also in Florida, it is the Gulf of Mexico that is a very powerful nature force instead of mountains. It is the Gulf of Mexico, the palm trees, plants, minerals and animals among many other things to whom we can offer our thanks. In historical context, the Seminoles in Florida had core beliefs of giving thanks to the land and having a deep connection with the land as if it is one’s mother. “Traditional Seminoles consider their environment a sacred source of life, and they themselves believe they are its guardians.” (Caufield, Catherine, “Selling a Piece of Your Mother”, 1998)
As I continue to learn more about sacred sites, I hope to integrate the same beliefs of reciprocity to the land as the native cultures who lived here before us.
On Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, the Keystone XL pipeline bill was defeated by a narrow margin. This is a victory for now but it won’t stop the oil industry from funneling millions of dollars in support of legislation that allows fracking and pollution to destroy the land, air and water.
What is the tourism industry doing to block legislation that promotes the destruction of the environment? Not much on a large scale. There has been some efforts by the National Parks Conservation Association to protect public lands from fracking, but we know that it takes big money to influence legislation, and it also doesn’t help that some environmental groups gave almost a million dollars in support of Keystone XL. In addition, various oil companies spend a lot more than a million dollars to influence legislation in their favor.
What does this have to do with tourism? To put it in business terms, the environment is the tourism industry’s “product.” Let’s take the product of the Gulf of Mexico, for example. Wildlife Tourism in the Gulf of Mexico generates $19.4 billion in spending— and that’s just wildlife tourism, then one would assume the tourism industry would want to protect its investment. It is for this reason that I wish there was a large scale effort on behalf of the tourism industry to combat every single legislation that is a threat to the environment.
I don’t personally view the environment as a “tourism product”, except within the context of this article. From a business perspective, it’s insane to let national wonders such as Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, or the entire Gulf of Mexico to be destroyed by the effects of fracking or other environmentally destructive policies.
How many people are going to want to visit the Florida beaches if the water is contaminated from fracking? I don’t think people will want to wear gas masks on the beach.
Yes, there are many organizations that do excellent work to preserve protected places which benefits the tourism industry. However, I have yet to see a large scale effort on behalf of the tourism industry to protect its “product”– the environment.