Indigenous tourism and social and environmental entrepreneurship


Map of Alaska

Alaska's indigenous peoples (numbering approximately 100,000) were organised into business corporations as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which transferred some $960 million dollars and 44 million acres of land to 200 Native regional and village corporations for their socioeconomic development and wellbeing. Southeast Alaska, which encompasses America's largest (Tongass) national forest and most diverse and pictaresque (Alexander) archipelago, is the homeland of the Tlingit and Haida peoples, whose corporations have invested in tourism ventures in association with major cruise ship lines which ply the waters of the Southeast's 'Inside Passage' with approximately 750,000 passengers a year.

Among the most successful of these ventures is the Tlingit Huna Totem Corporation's tourist facility at Icy Strait Point, on a traditional fishing site just outside their village at Hoonah (from the Tlingit Xoona, meaning 'in the lee of the north wind'). Cruise ships from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Holland America, Princess, and other lines anchor just offshore from the facility, a former fishing cannery, where guests are ferried ashore with opportunities to learn about the importance of salmon fishing and Tlingit natural and cultural heritage, partake in more than 20 excursions, and dine and shop at locally-owned facilities.

Since 2004 when the ICP opened, it has accommodated up to 80 cruise ship (some 160,000 passengers) visits a year, and is currently planning an expansion of its docking facilities. Approximately 85% of ICP employees are local Tlingits (most shareholders in the Native corporation), and indigenous entrepreneurs have also developed niche businesses (e.g., local tours, catering, handicrafts, medicines) to serve the tourist trade. ICP's success has been recognised both regionally and internationally through several prestigious tourism awards. However, the business also faces challenges in being a sustainable social-environmental enterprise due to its almost exclusive dependence on cruise ship traffic.

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