Indigenous Tourism: the Cultural Politics of Appropriation, Re-Identification and Re-Presentation.

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INDIGENOUS TOURISM: THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF APPROPRIATION, RE-IDENTIFICATION AND RE-PRESENTATION

Tourism is an industry: its structures exist solely because profit can be generated. However, it offers a paradox because by offering employment and income by capitalising upon and giving value to arts and crafts previously thought unimportant, it then threatens to gain ownership of those designs and the ways of thought of which they are an expression.

Ryan, C 2005, Indigenous tourism: commodification and management of culture

As a brand, tourism is positioning itself as a big part of the Australian economy. As a feature of the general tourism putsch, the selling of traditionally low-niche, specific, Indigenous cultural products and tourist destinations within the Indigenous estate has played its part, with ethno-and-eco tourists being invited to ‘discover’ Aboriginal cultures via a variety of leisure activities and tourism ventures: many owned and run by Aboriginal Australians. Indeed, Aboriginal-owned tourism ventures are a growing segment of the Australian Tourism Industry. To this end, tourism agencies and Indigenous Land Councils are embroiled in the process of what Heather Zeppel (1998) describes as “the (re)presentation of Indigenous cultural heritage”. In this paper, I will examine the impact that mass tourism and cultural commodification has on Australian Indigenous cultural heritage and identity; expose some of the contradictory features between the marketing hyperbole and the realities of day-to-day life; and investigate the general effect of appropriation of cultural artifacts and intellectual property by the dominant culture, and the concomitant and ongoing undermining and diluting of Indigenous cultural authenticity.

Tourism has an intimate relationship to post-colonialism in that it is embedded in those postcolonial relationships. The centrality of identity and representation, contested discourses, and dubious ethics are at its heart (Hall & Tucker, 2004 p.1). Indeed, Hall and Tucker (2004, p.4) note that Mathews (1994) sees tourism as hegemonistic and describes it as potentially the ‘new plantation economy’, and that structurally it is part of an overseas economy dominated by global multinational corporations and ‘held together by law and order and local elites’. Neo-Marxist approaches to tourism studies usher in ideas of alienation, industrialization, leisure, class and authenticity; more reactionary Foucauldian and poststructural discourses speak of the appropriation of other cultures via the gaze of tourists or speak of an ordering. The overt “otherising” of Aboriginal people as recognisable tourism targets was obvious enough in pageantry and mission visits, showcasing what colonialism had “conquered” and would now convert to civilization. In other words, this was a part of how Aboriginal people were being ordered by the developing Anglo-Australian nationalism (Galliford, 2009, p66).

With Asia, and China specifically, as our fastest-growing and highest-value tourist market, a key feature of the lure, in tandem with the ultra-slick, high-niche integrated resorts, is in Zeppel’s words, “the selling of the dreamtime” (1998). As long ago as 1994, Jacobs and Gale noted that “whereas other sectors of the Australian economy may have marginalized or been antagonistic to Aboriginal interests, the tourism industry increasingly centres on Aboriginal culture”. Citing Summers (1991), they further suggest that:

tourist promotion propaganda depicts [Australia] largely as a giant zoo and geological theme park … [where] … Aboriginal people are portrayed as artists … performing corroborees for tourists” (Jacob & Gale, 1994 p.2).

While Aboriginal communities “often have little choice about accepting or rejecting tourism” (Jacobs & Gale, 1994 p.5), well-intentioned, economic-efficacy and independence arguments have been used like mantras as the rationale for the setting up of...
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