Developing Tourism with the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, with Penny Peters

Episode 285

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Penny Peters is a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. She is the Manager at Akwesasne Travel. Penny has been an integral part of the establishment of Akwesasne Travel and furthering the development of the tourism industry in Akwesasne. Penny is currently working to promote Akwesasne Travel through marketing, partnerships, and awareness of indigenous culture. Penny has strong ties to the community, the environment, and traditional ways. Penny believes that indigenous tourism is not only a means of economic growth for communities but also crucial for cultural preservation.

In 2021 Penny was elected to the NYSTIA Board and was excited to represent NY Tourism and the North Country. She has also been advocating for Indigenous tourism, especially within NY State. She hopes to help support indigenous businesses to create mutually beneficial partnerships with non-native entities to grow and strengthen the industry.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Penny Peters about the process of developing tourism for her indigenous nation and the challenges they have faced along the journey. We discuss the tours that Akwesasne Travel has designed, their plans for marketing those programs, and the partnerships they’ve developed. Penny also shares the details of the tour planning process and why it was so important to ensure that her community approved every aspect.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The unique nature of the Akwesasne nation and the areas their land encompasses in New York State and across into Canada.
  • How Penny and her colleagues are approaching tourism and the experience they hope to deliver
  • Their focus on community artisans and how they market those small-group tours
  • What Penny learned from other travel consultants and how she applied that knowledge to her indigenous community, taking into consideration their particular customs and needs
  • How Akwesasne Travel got creative about what they could offer and some of their current tours
  • Challenges that Penny and her colleagues faced in developing the tourism industry in their nation, particularly the issues around crossing the U.S / Canadian border during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Some of the partnerships they developed to circumnavigate problems and increase their offering
  • Collaborations that have worked well for Akwesasne Travel and that are that they are planning to develop in the future
  • The importance of recognizing that although you may have a plan or guideposts, sometimes you have to pivot to be successful and achieve your goals
  • Penny’s advice for others who may be starting down the path of tourism development.

Developing Tourism for an Indigenous Nation

There can be some unexpected challenges around developing a tourist offering as a native community, and one of those things is educating consultants and partners. There can be challenges in connecting with regional tourism offices because of the unique situation of the native people. On the podcast, Penny shares her firm belief that it is vital to keep an open mind and keep having conversations with potential partners. We also discuss the necessity of planning and preparing to develop as a tourist region and why it’s so important to be able to flex when the situation changes.

Akwesasne Travel’s Creative Offerings

Penny describes how they began to develop tours in their region, kicking off by getting out in the community, sharing their plans, and asking for feedback on where they wanted visitors to go and what they wanted to share about their culture.

She describes one of their first community initiatives set up at a powwow and where they invited local artisans to start collaborating to build a large traditionally woven basket, and how that gave Penny and her team an opening to talk about their plans to bring tourists to the area and share how it would help the local economy to grow.

Collaborations and Partnerships

Working with other organizations is central to how Akwesasne Travel works — they have recently participated in a reenactment event set in 1784 arranged by a local museum on the Canadian side of the nation to share what life looked like at that time. On the U.S. side, they have a longstanding collaboration in place with the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, which they are planning to expand even further. The Akwesasne nation also shares and collaborates with other indigenous nations to allow visitors an insight into their cultures.


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