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So, How Long Have You Been Native?

Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide

Alexis C. Bunten

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 03/2015
Pages: 272
Subject: Social Science
eBook ISBN: 9780803269774


So, How Long Have You Been Native? is Alexis C. Bunten's firsthand account of what it is like to work in the Alaska cultural tourism industry. An Alaska Native and anthropologist, she spent two seasons working for a tribally owned tourism business that markets the Tlingit culture in Sitka. Bunten's narrative takes readers through the summer tour season as she is hired and trained and eventually becomes a guide.   A multibillion-dollar worldwide industry, cultural tourism provides one of the most ubiquitous face-to-face interactions between peoples of different cultures and is arguably one of the primary means by which knowledge about other cultures is disseminated. Bunten goes beyond debates about who owns Native culture and has the right to "sell" it to tourists. Through a series of anecdotes, she examines issues such as how and why Natives choose to sell their culture, the cutthroat politics of business in a small town, how the cruise industry maintains its bottom line, the impact of colonization on contemporary Native peoples, the ways that traditional cultural values play a role in everyday life for contemporary Alaska Natives, and how Indigenous peoples are engaging in global enterprises on their own terms. Bunten's bottom-up approach provides a fascinating and informative look at the cultural tourism industry in Alaska.


Alexis C. Bunten is a project ethnographer at Simon Fraser University and a senior researcher at the FrameWorks Institute. Her articles have appeared in American Indian Quarterly, Journal of Museum Education, and American Ethnologist.


“With tremendous empathy, warm humor, and trained insight, Native scholar and ethnographer Alexis Bunten embedded herself for a summer season in her own [Alaska Native] people’s cultural tourism industry. After working as a tourist guide, she produced this absolutely original, insider’s journal on the difficult choices and behind-the-scenes debates over how to enlighten outsiders with limited attention spans while protecting the vulnerable, deep-seated beliefs and ritual practices and ever-evolving lifestyles of the local indigenous community. A case study of what small-scale, traditional societies are experiencing all around the world, this is a groundbreaking work and a riveting read.”—Peter Nabokov, author of Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places