The importance of honoring indigenous histories when visiting native land on vacation or at home

The importance of honoring indigenous histories when visiting native land on vacation or at home

We're thinking about the significance of Native lands in the past, present, and future, and the importance for tourists and locals alike to learn how to be respectful guests in sacred indigenous places.

Despite where you go in the United States (and more broadly, North America), you are visiting Indigenous peoples' ancestral territories. This is especially true here in Hawai'i. Like New Zealand, Hawai’i did not enter world history when Captain James Cook sailed here….these island nations had existed for centuries as home to its first peoples. 

When traveling, we can gain a better understanding of other cultures and places by putting ourselves in someone else's shoes or in ancient times. Whether you're traveling across the United States, visiting Hawai'i, or sticking to your hometown, it's always fun experience learn about the first inhabitants of any special indigenous place.

We want to help you so that when you are visiting sacred indigenous lands you know how to be respectful, so we've compiled a list of pointers. The narrative surrounding our country's open spaces and public lands often ignores the real human history of these locations and their first people, but you can help change that story. The truth is that honoring the ancient histories of the sacred places we love to visit is fun and rewarding.

Learn about the place you're visiting. Acknowledge the land and honor it as a sacred ancestral place if it is one.

You can do this formally or informally. As a place to start, you can google 'indigenous land acknowledgment' to get some ideas. An indigenous land acknowledgment is a statement that acknowledges the indigenous people who first inhabited the land you are currently standing on, as well as their connection to that land. This is a respectful gesture to acknowledge also the long-term impact of colonialism on local indigenous people and their cultures. Before you can express your gratitude, you will need to learn more about the land you are on, and the cultural history and story of that place, and if possible, engage with locals whose families have called the place home for generations. Connecting authentically, with curiosity and respect is the best way.

More and more, as travelers and tourists and locals, we must dig deeper to learn about the full history of a place because we are usually offered a colonial history that skips over thousands of years of human history and often leaves out a lot of really interesting and amazing history. Having an open mind to these myths only helps to layer on meaning and significance to your travels and the sense of personal growth your travels spark within you. Indigenous peoples are part of this living culture and living history, and and we have a responsibility to learn about what ancestral lands we're on and what ancestors and stories we may connect with.

As an example, here in Hawai’i, the Hawwian Tourist Authority dedicates resources towards preserving Hawiian culture and provides many good resources for locals and tourists alike to check out and learn from:

Respectful visiting is important.

It's crucial to follow the basic etiquette and rules that apply whether you're traveling across the country or across the world. When you're on public land or sacred sites, whether it's a national, state, or local park, you should always stay on the marked paths, properly dispose of your trash, don't vandalize, keep your distance from wildlife, and respect other people.

Tribal lands, such as a reservation, are residential communities with their own customs and rules. You should ask if it's okay to photograph someone or a cultural activity, and you should not pick up or take any objects. Varela says it's critical to treat visitors as you would in your home, and she says asking permission is a good place to start.

Seek out indigenous cultural desks or centers.

Native cultural centers and museums can provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about your destination's history, culture, and community. There are a variety of experiences and exhibits at various locations, but they can help you learn more about the tribe through artifacts, historical homes, stories told by tribal members, traditional clothing and crafts, educational talks, performances, and even hands-on workshops.

Find local cultural events. For instance herein Hawai’i, you can find events here:

Choose to purchase local services from indigenous-owned businesses.

Investing in indigenous-owned businesses is a fantastic way to assist these communities. Whenever you travel, seek out indigenous people and nations' restaurants, shops, hotels, and tour companies. By visiting these spots, you will gain a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the location and its people. Native-owned eateries offer a taste of local cuisine; authentic arts and crafts may be purchased in local shops; and native guides may offer valuable information about the land and sacred places that you are exploring. Conscious tourists are seeking out indigenous-run tourist attractions, accommodations, and experiences to gain a more comprehensive picture of the location.

Consider booking a trip that integrates giving back, for instance the Malama Hawai’i program is a great example of this:

Even after your trip, continue to educate yourself.

You can continue learning about indigenous ancestral lands in your neighborhood when you return home, seek out local cultural centers to learn more about the first people who lived (and may continue to live) there and support Indigenous-owned businesses in your local area.

Indigenous creators are constantly posting important information and resources on their Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok accounts and websites so one way to maintain connections with the places you visit is to make new friends and add them to your feeds.

You may want to follow Indigenous news sites or accounts raising awareness about the issues facing Indigenous peoples (and spread this information to others). To get involved at a deeper level, you should pay attention to Indigenous-led organizations and activists (and give this information to others in your life). As you increase your knowledge, you may discover other ways to assist, whether through donating money to indigenous communities or directly to the nations on their websites, or by choosing to travel and vacation in ways that are focused on supporting indigenous communities and experiencing more authentic cultural enhancement.