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Indigenous Tourism. Torres Strait Islanders Essay

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2021

Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders

In many countries and cultures throughout the world, tourism is a large source of income for many individuals. Being able to support oneself and family through the education of tourists about their culture has to be a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, there are also people that are so eager to earn money that they exploit other individuals in their quest for money that massive damage occurs to the country and culture. This effect is increased when there is an indigenous culture involved. These cultures that are living by the traditions of their culture can be vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals creating complications within their culture and the very industry that requires that culture draw visitors.

The success of Indigenous tourism depends upon a tripod composed of the draw that the indigenous cultures have on creating a unique destination on a global scale, the government who balances the need for economic opportunities within these communities which allows the government to proportion its money in other areas with the third leg of the tripod limiting the amount of damage both cultural and environmental that the increase in tourism can bring to an area. Balancing these needs requires that compromises be made along each side so that the tourism that brings in much-needed revenue to these areas is not responsible for the destruction of the areas that bring the tourists to the area in the first place. Therefore considering the situation a win-win one is very optimistic, these three legs of the tripod end up competing with each other as they try to ensure that their individuals’ needs are met rather than considering what the effects will be on the industry as a whole.

The specific area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) has increased in the level of importance throughout the last few decades due to the increased marketability of this area’s aboriginal culture in overseas markets. As the international exposure continued to grow the area received more revenue from the tourist industry but also has to balance the demands of tourism and the effect that the increased visibility from global exposure will have on their traditional lifestyle. There is a concern that the government’s use of the aboriginal arts and music to promote the tourist industry to Australia in general rather than to specific areas where the aboriginal art and culture is created in the ATSI area of Australia. Effects of this while it does increase the number of tourist dollars into the country there is only a slight benefit to the tourist business owned or operated by the ATSI individuals.

The relationship between government-sponsored tourism and indigenous cultures has the ability to either help or hurt the industry. In order to best promote these cultures, they must be given enough autonomy to protect their culture but combined with partnerships that are well thought out in enhancing the cultural history of the tribes while protecting that very same history. If the indigenous population becomes mainstreamed or destroyed in other ways the tourist industry will also be destroyed. The combination of using the indigenous cultures to increase the amount of revenue into the economy must balance the gains to the economy and minimize the damage done to the indigenous cultures.

Market and Indigenous Tourism

When the average computer literate individual searches for information on Australia on the internet there are several very good websites that are brought up. The first of this website is www.australia.com. The website is sponsored by the government of Australia so that the aspects of the culture that are most popular and therefore the most marketable are promoted. While the culture of Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, and Melbourne’s culture there is also the promotion of the Uluru and Kakadu Aboriginal cultures. The website www.tourism.australia.com starts with a slide show of people enjoying the various cultural aspects of the country with individuals enjoying themselves. These two websites through operated by different organizations emphases the vast amount of experiences that a tourist can enjoy while visiting the country. This is also known as promoting the “Brand Australia” in a visually appealing manner so that more tourists will visit. These websites also promote the unique aboriginal culture that can only be found in Australia.

When going through these websites the images throughout the website depict the culture of the Aboriginals through specific individuals, their art, and their history. This promotion is part of a very smart campaign to convince tourists that they would not be able to get an experience anywhere else in the world like they would be able to get when they visit Australia.

The promotion of Australia through a specific brand was a unique concept that changed the way countries promoted themselves to individuals who wished to travel. By combining the characteristics of the country with the attitudes and various lifestyles was a departure from the traditional methods of attracting tourism to the country. By combining these characteristics there was a better chance of convincing individuals to travel to Australia since they would not find a similar experience anywhere else in the world.

The promotion of the Aboriginal cultures of Australia specifically the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was helped with the creation of a Tourism Industry Strategy in 1997 which created several brochures that promoted the experience that could be had by visiting the various tribes with advice on behavior combined with focused information on different areas and offerings. These brochures were designed to enhance the desire to visit Australia in order to be able to experience these activities and the culture firsthand rather than merely reading about them.

This promotion of nations indigenous population occurs throughout the world as each country competes in a global economy based around tourism. These countries that have been blessed with an aboriginal culture use that culture to stand out from other countries to entice more tourist dollars into the country. While these promotions due increase the number of tourists who visit a country each year they also produced stereotypical images of the countries that continue throughout the world. Images of the outback and “Crocodile” Dundee are the images that most commonly come to mind when thinking about Australia. These images are an aspect of the promotional campaign put in place several years ago by the government. While this is not a bad image necessarily it is the stereotypical image of Australia and the individuals that live there.

Issues of Control in ATSI Tourism

Concern by the Aboriginals over the use of their land has led to more control being returned to the Aboriginals from the government. In several instances, the Aboriginals upon regaining this level of control enter into partnerships with their government in hopes that there the joint leadership over the land will help increase the revenue generated by the land. This joint leadership allows the indigenous people to have control over their land and activities but also the support in business matters from the government.

While this is happening in Australia it is also happening around the world. The indigenous population of Hawaii is allowed control over one of the islands and only native Hawaiians are allowed to live on that island. While it is a measure of control and they have the ability to live a traditional lifestyle on that island the other islands in Hawaii are marketed throughout the world as premier tourist destinations. The native Hawaiians have received a measure of control and protection of their way of life from the government but are severely limited in where that control is exercised.

This global phenomenon of the governments of the world using their indigenous citizens as a draw for tourists sparked a controversial debate in March 2002. Indigenous leaders from 19 different countries gathered in Mexico to discuss the opportunities and problems that result from ecotourism with specific examples from their own experiences. This meeting produced the “Oaxaca Declaration” which prompts the indigenous cultures around the worked to participate in the sharing of information that will allow other cultures to learn from the experiences of others so that the damage to the indigenous cultures around the world could be minimized while supporting tourism interest in their culture.

This meeting was a groundbreaking event for the indigenous populations due to the fact that there are many institutions that are working toward the creation of standards for certification of both ecotourism and sustainable tourism with very little input from the cultures that are at risk with these efforts. In order for true policies on ecotourism to be created the indigenous populations need to be a major participant in these discussions so that their traditional way of life receives the benefits of more exposure to other cultures but that the cultures that visit them limit the damage that they can cause to both the traditional culture and the environment that sustains that way of life.

I think that it is unfortunate that the indigenous people have to fight to regain control over their lands through the legal system and then once that control has been regained sign contracts with either individuals or government agencies that while they might want to help them become more self-sufficient also pose a threat to the survival of their way of life. Signing a lease for over 90 years is not helpful to the tribes but it is to the government that is using the same tribe as a magnet for tourism.

Ethical Research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Communities

In today’s world, the standards for conducting research on humans are incredibly strict and the penalties for not following the guidelines and standards are severe. Unfortunately, this was not always the case and for cultures that pride themselves on oral traditions of history the word research drags up unpleasant memories and mistrustful feelings.

A lot of the early research among the aboriginal cultures was done in an effort to prove that they were an inferior culture that did not deserve the right to make decisions for them or own their own land. While these studies were done under the scientific guidelines of the times and in order to answer questions for the scientific community the results of the studies were also used to have the legal right to take away their land, culture, and heritage.

These studies included measuring the skulls of indigenous populations in order to prove that the size of the skull and therefore the size of their brain indicated that they were an inferior form of the human race and therefore unable to take care of themselves or their lands. While this was done under the scientific standards of the time and the expected result was expanding the research on the theories of race that were popular during the time of the experiment. Unfortunately, it is a common side effect that research done on indigenous populations during that time period resulted in negative consequences through changes in government policies such as land ownership.

The results of other studies have caused negative effects inside the tribe such as danger to the lives of the participants from other members of the tribe or the research gathered was the folklore and superstitions of the tribe with very little scientific validity. It was in response to the unintended consequences and collection of research that was not valid that brought about the changes to how the research was conducted among human subjects with emphasis on the indigenous populations.

When researchers of today go into these areas they need to understand that their relationships with the individuals of these cultures must be treated with respect and dignity and realize that responses and situations in the tribes will be in part based on the memories of past research expeditions. Even if those expeditions happened 50 or 150 years ago.

The standards that are in place currently include treating the individuals with respect and dignity, informed consent, and the creation of a formal document outlining the proposed research and the expected outcomes. These outcomes need to be relevant to both the scientific community as well as the native community for the research to be done with the respect and dignity that the standards demand but also human decency.

While it would be nice if the damage that previous research has done to the tribes; that is not a possible solution. Because of that, the best situation is for the scientists to go forward with the understanding gained from the previous research studies combined with the current standards on conducting ethical research among these communities.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Indigenous Tourism. Torres Strait Islanders." October 3, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indigenous-tourism-torres-strait-islanders/.


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