A recent story in the Missoulian announced an exciting new effort by the Montana Department of Commerce to support and enhance tourism in Indian Country and the state.
Last year, MBPC released a paper “Tourism Could Be an Economic Driver in Indian Country With Focus and Investment,” where we reported that tourism is one of Montana’s leading industries, bringing in 12 million tourists annually, creating thousands of jobs, and contributing billions of dollars to our state’s economy.
In 2016, roughly 1.4 million of visitors to Montana were drawn here for reasons directly related to American Indians. More recently, according to the Missoulian, a 2017 national survey of potential visitors found that 82 percent of leisure travelers were interested in exploring sites related to Native American culture.
In order to help connect these tourists to places and experiences in Indian Country, the 2017 legislature created an Indian Country tourism region, which joined the state’s six existing regions. The next steps, as reported by the Missoulian, are to “create awareness for Native American cultural experiences and events within a target market,” as well as “taking the best assets we see in Native communities and turning those into opportunities for business development and economy boosting.”
Each of the 12 tribes in the state have a rich history and culture, public celebrations like pow wows, and museums and trading posts containing Native arts and crafts and other goods. Likewise, the reservations are located in beautiful and open spaces with access to the outdoors, as well as a growing number of services and amenities. Increasing service sectors on reservations and in general creating a marketplace that can host, feed, and provide the experiences tourists want is what the state and tribes are currently working towards.
Tribal tourism officer and member of the Blackfeet Tribe, Carla Lott, says part of the goal is for “tribal tourism to benefit underserved, rural areas of the state while promoting a greater understanding of modern Native American culture.”
As tourism in Indian Country continues to grow, it will also drive economic growth on reservations, creating new business and employment opportunities. And this is good for Indian Country and for the state as a whole.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.