Indigenous Capitalism through Tourism?: A Case Study of Economic Development in Native Southeast Alaska
Tillotson, Michael Douglas
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On the coasts of the United States, dense human populations tend to occur alongside valuable natural resources and important ecosystems. In these areas, efficient management of competing uses frequently relies on economic valuations. Often eluding valuation and thus failing to meet capitalist standards of economic efficiency, unique coastal ways of life and their associated cultural identities are increasingly at risk of being lost. This potential loss of cultural identity is particularly important to indigenous peoples. However, for the nation's many persistently poor Native communities reducing poverty, achieving self-determination and revitalizing culture often require engaging with the same capitalist system that threatens traditional ways of life. In the case of Alaska Natives, this relationship has been formalized by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which tied Native prosperity and sovereignty to capitalism through a system of Native corporations. This thesis employs the case study method of qualitative research to examine the economic development strategy of one of these entities; Sealaska Corporation. After identifying relevant theories and concepts, a historical approach is employed to identify important events and patterns in Sealaska's past involvement with economic development efforts. Tourism is then evaluated as a potential component of culturally relevant and environmentally sustainable economic development. The tension between achieving financial profitability and maintaining cultural identity emerges as a key challenge for Sealaska. In addition, it is found that development of innovative cultural and nature-based tourism products represents a significant but currently unfulfilled opportunity for the Corporation. Tourism appears to be uniquely flexible in its ability to balance the competing goals that emerge from the interaction of capitalism and Native cultural, and therefore strategic tourism development is recommended for Sealaska Corporation. Following from these findings it is concluded that innovation represents an important middle ground between overt hostility towards capitalism and cultural assimilation.
- Marine affairs