Hawaiʻi Representatives Share Insights and Aloha at 2021 American Indian Tourism Conference

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Thought-provoking. Inspiring. Unifying. That’s how Kainoa Daines, director of culture and product development for Hawaiʻi Tourism United States, describes the 23rd annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC), which he attended from October 25-28 at the We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hosted by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), it is the only national conference dedicated to growing tourism in America’s Indigenous communities. This year, AITC brought together some 270 cultural and tourism leaders from throughout the U.S. and Canada to explore the theme “Reimagine, Re-emerge, Reunite: Stronger Together in Indian Country.”

Photo: Kainoa Daines
Kainoa Daines. – Photo: Hawaiʻi Tourism United States

“Despite its name, AITC embraces Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians as well as American Indians,” said Daines, who was the conference’s emcee. “Most Hawaiians tend to look to the Pacific for relatives and cousins, but our American Indian and Alaska Native brethren on the U.S. continent also share similar values and ideals. We collectively form a larger Indigenous nation.”

Hawaiʻi’s delegation also included hulu artist Kawika Lum-Nelmida; Marques Marzan, fiber artist and cultural adviser at Bishop Museum; Mālia Sanders, executive director, and Kanoe Takitani-Puahi, director of programs, for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association; and Jay Rojas, managing director of the PAʻI Foundation.

Vicky Holt Takamine, executive director of the PAʻI Foundation, gave two presentations at AITC. During the October 25 “Business of Art” workshop, aimed at artists and arts organizations, she discussed pricing, marketing, Native artist professional development trainings, and how to prepare artwork for trade shows and gallery exhibits. She also suggested ways to collaborate with galleries, shops, hotels and museums on cultural demonstrations, exhibits and trunk shows.

For the October 27 panel on “Building a Tribal Arts Program,” Takamine focused on the PAʻI Foundation Art Gallery and Performing Arts Complex, which is set to open at the Ola Ka ʻIlima Artspace Lofts in Kakaʻako in fall 2022. It will encompass a 1,000-square-foot retail/art space, a 1,000-square-foot mezzanine with office and meeting spaces and a 3,000-square-foot performing arts rehearsal/presenting space.

“Indigenous peoples recognize similarities in their language, religion, beliefs, values, customs, myths and legends, and art is a great way to express them,” Daines said. “PAʻI’s new complex will be a hub for Native Hawaiian artists to create, practice, display and sell their work as well as interact with visitors. It’s an exciting, innovative model for how Indigenous arts and cultural practices can be preserved and perpetuated and be a boon to tourism.”

The findings of the new Economic Impact of Indigenous Tourism Report were first made public in an October 26 talk by Daniel Nāhoʻopiʻi, executive vice president of SMS, a full-service research and marketing company based in Honolulu. Produced by SMS in partnership with AIANTA, it’s the first report to formally track the economic impact of hospitality businesses owned by American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

According to Nāhoʻopiʻi’s summary of the report, 40,618 Native-owned businesses contributed $14 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, the most recent data published by the U.S. Census that includes Race and Ethnicity designation for both the Annual Business Survey and the Non-Employer Statistics.

“Daniel noted that retail sales generated $7.79 billion – more than half of that figure,” Daines said. “In addition, 26% of all Native-owned companies are in the hospitality sector. Those findings are significant; they confirm the huge impact Indigenous businesses make on tourism in America.”

John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, was the keynote speaker at the opening general session on October 26. In his 30-minute address, presented live via Zoom from Honolulu, he stressed the importance of balancing the economics of tourism with the wellbeing of our communities and natural resources.

In one particularly poignant segment, he recalled his work many years ago with kalo farmers in Waipiʻo Valley on Hawaiʻi Island. A flood had damaged the infrastructure they depended on to grow their crops. At a meeting, some farmers suggested that action be taken to restrict the amount of water flowing down into the valley, but one kupuna suggested that cultivating more land there would make good use of the precious resource.

De Fries found parallels between this and his role today. Like floodwaters, the rush of visitors to Hawaiʻi can be overwhelming, but there are opportunities to use it to diversify our economy and regenerate our natural, cultural and community resources. It is important that we cultivate enough “loʻi” in the right places to use the resources.

Mālama kuʻu home lies at the heart of those decisions. “The conference not only recognized Indigenous peoples’ achievements in the hospitality industry, it shed light on the challenges we face,” Daines said. “Hawaiians can be proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we still have a lot to do to manage tourism in a pono way.

“Tourism is a platform to tell our stories authentically, with our values and traditions respectfully woven in. If we stay true to who we are, if we tell our stories as they were meant to be told and honor our kūpuna in all that we do, our path should undoubtedly lead to success.”

About AIANTA

Incorporated in 2002, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) provides tourism and recreational travel training and technical assistance to Native American Indian nations and tribal businesses across the United States. Its mission is “to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values.”

AIANTA is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During AITC, it announced it has remapped its representation from six regions to 15. Hawaiʻi was previously part of the Pacific region; it now is its own separate region. Hiʻilani Shibata, the lead cultural trainer for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, was previously one of two board members representing AIANTA’s Pacific Region. She now represents the Hawaiʻi Region on the board. For more information about AIANTA, visit www.aianta.org.