You Don't Know me but You Don't Like Me: Cultural Hierarchy in Sustainable Development of Heritage and Cultural Tourism in the Northern Great Plains
Many American, European and Japanese tourists are drawn to the empty spaces of the Northern Great Plains for cultural tourism experiences, particularly those based on dude ranches or reservations which echo the (re)presentation of the wild West. However, many residents of the Great Plains have mixed responses to this form of sustainable development. Drawing from interviews conducted in 2004 and 2005, and from sociological literature, this paper examines the role of cultural hierarchy (Creed and Ching, 1995; DuPuis and Vandergeest, 1998) in complicating the participation of local people, both white and Native American, in further promotion and development of cultural tourism ventures.
Since the introduction of the Buffalo Commons in the late 1980s (Popper and Popper, 1987), people of the Great Plains have been singled out as a rural population at risk in a region that is destined to fail. The answer to social and economic failure was to re-create the region as a vast national park, which would both preserve native cultures and reclaim the vast buffalo herds. This pre-identification of what was of value in the region impacted local residents in two ways: 1) Descendents of settlers and/or current farm populations felt that their own cultural heritage was not valued by those “outside”, and 2) Many Natives people felt that they were perceived as Hollywood characters for display, rather than modern people in a modern world.
As tourism is ultimately the process of constructing a desired experience, the conflict between what is valued by those visiting and what is valued by residents has yet to be resolved as viable sustainable development.
Keywords: Great Plains--U.S., Cultural Tourism, Cultural Hierarchy
Dr. Meredith Redlin
Associate Professor, Department of Rural Sociology, South Dakota State University