Cultural Sensitivity

Living in Arizona has given me many opportunities to experience native cultures in my work, play, and volunteering.   I enjoy chances to get to know cultures other than my own.

Today’s Native peoples in America may live in metro cities. They work, attend college, and have families.  Many have grown accustomed to being a part of the city and enjoy life away from the reservations. Some choose to return to their homelands for ceremonies and special events. These people enjoy the best of both worlds.  Many Indians continue to live on their original tribal lands, reservations, and pueblos. They may or may not embrace traditional ways and traditional arts. However, home to most Indians is the community, family, their language, land, birds, and animals.   Frequently, those who stay on their tribal lands are the ones who must contend with tourists.

Tourism has brought non-indians to the southwest since the early train days. Stops near Indian villages allowed tourists to experience Native people, their tribal dress, and handmade wares at trading posts. Native arts were eagerly purchased. Tourists would come and go with their souvenirs and photographs; simply, here one minute and gone the next.

Today, as interest in Indian cultures, their arts, and jewelry continues, there is a wish to experience Native Indians in their tribal lands for longer visits. Tour companies prepare to spend more time than ever before in Indian communities. Native guides are available to share tribal histories, historical sites, and personal glimpses into their home lives.  Musicians, dancers, and storytellers prepare events and activities specific to groups of all sizes.  Artists set up displays of their incredible work,  both functional items and fine arts.  Many artists share the traditional processes passed down through centuries within their families. Tour group passengers witness how today’s native communities exist and learn about these cultures, many of which have been here since ancient times.  In other words, these communities prepare for tours and visitors.

How much do we prepare for them?

I ask myself,  “How are we doing with these visits? Are we welcome or are we a burden? Do our visits bring joy?  Are we rude or are we sensitive to our hosts? Would we be welcome back?”

I am a tour director with opportunities to visit tribes of Arizona and New Mexico. I love my work and try to role reverse with the Native people I visit;  meaning, I want to see my tour group through the eyes of our Indian hosts.  What must they think of me and my predominately Anglo tour groups?  Are they happy to see us or happy to see us leave? Maybe both!  How can I best prepare my passengers as welcome guests?

The blog Respectful Differences asks, “How can we be culturally sensitive to the tribes and tribal lands we visit?  How can we be proper guests in Indian communities?”  Suggestions may vary from tribe to tribe, clan to clan, or from person to person.

I invite Native people, educators, tour guides, and visitors of Indian communities to share their thoughts and suggestions.  Feel free to share your knowledge of “what to do” as well as “what not to do”…  We can all learn from others’ experiences and mistakes.  I’ve made a few of my own.

Goal:  Be guests welcomed to return.

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