Exploring the cross section between policy and cultural exchange in Indian Country

Woman posing next to and American indian dancer
Jennifer Queen, resource fellow for Travel, Tourism and Recreation, with a Chippewa warrior dancer from the Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina after a presentation of their warrior dance. USDA Forest Service photo by Jennifer Queen.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a resource assistant in Recreation, Heritage and Volunteer Resources, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Catoosa, Oklahoma, home to 39 Native American nations, to attend the American Indian Tourism Conference. When I applied for my position, my goal was to indulge my passion for cultural interpretation and program development.

I spent the first 10 years of my career in the education sector. After falling in love with a consulting gig at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, I knew I needed to put my ideas and talents into play in the wider world.

Specifically, I wanted to explore ways to bring together policy as well as cultural, academic and economic considerations in cultural interpretation. More importantly, I wanted to do this in a way that is interesting, engaging and respectful of the culture, its history and values. I found this opportunity with the USDA Forest Service.

The annual American Indian Tourism Conference explores tourism within Indian Country. Representatives of indigenous governments and employees from the Forest Service, National Park Service and other federal agencies come to take part.

Woman presenting using Power Point
Toby Bloom, national program manager for Travel, Tourism and Interpretation, presenting on Forest Bathing as part of potential Native American recreation economy. USDA Forest Service photo by Jennifer Queen.

Cultural diversity and education were enduring themes at this year’s conference. Attendees participated in mobile workshop excursions with the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Muscogee (Creek) nations. We discussed the recreation economy, native approaches to sustainable tourism and shared stewardship. These interactions helped us better understand the role Indian country plays in tourism and recreation—one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, outpacing information technology and healthcare.

Now that I’m back and had a chance to digest this amazing experience, I better understand the impact that Forest Service partnerships and programs really have, in both native communities and beyond. I am deeply grateful to the Forest Service, the Corp Network, Civic Works and the Resource Assistants Program for making this experience possible. I will continue engaging in cultural interpretation opportunities for the duration of my time here and after my assistantship ends in November.

For more information on this event, visit the 2020 American Indian Tourism Conference  website.
For more on how the Forest Service partners with Indigenous governments and communities you can take the following Aglearn courses:


Written by Jennifer Queen, resource fellow for Travel, Tourism and Recreation, USDA Forest Service