California launches new platform to showcase Indigenous travel experiences

This week, Visit California (the state’s tourism marketing arm) revealed plans to launch a new online platform designed to promote California’s Indigenous tourism destinations, experiences and businesses.

Visit Native California will launch on VisitCalifornia.com in March 2023 with blog posts, suggested itineraries, and podcasts that highlight opportunities for travelers to visit and learn about the 109 federally recognized tribes and tribal communities.

ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

The announcement was made at one of the centerpieces of tribal tourism in California, the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, which is slated to open in early 2023.

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California Native Tourism

State officials and tribal leaders from across the state gathered for a press conference last week to discuss the new platform and draw attention to a few of the destinations it will promote.

“Our Indigenous cultures discovered, protected and preserved the landscapes that visitors come to California for today,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California. “Our shared culture and way of life draws visitors to California…and tribal peoples across the state have shaped that culture and way of life.”

“It is woven into the very fabric of California,” she continued, “and Visit Native California will curate, preserve, and elevate the stories of Native Californians.”

Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California. ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

Funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Federal Bailout Act, Visit Native California will be the first state-wide platform to advance Native American tourism experiences in a “priority way,” according to Beteta, who called the upcoming Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza “the epicenter of all tribal cultural tourism in California.”

“This project, this site, gives my people the opportunity to share our culture, celebrate our culture and educate the public about who we are as a people,” said Reid Malanovich, President of the Agua Caliente Band. Cahuilla Indians. on the new cultural center. “This is us. This is our story.

“When we share our culture,” he continued, “it helps preserve our culture.”

Reid Malanovich, President of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

“This is a historic step forward for Visit California,” added Sherry Rupert, CEO of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. “California is in a unique position to have a significant impact on the growth of tourism and attendance at tribal cultural experiences,” she said, citing the fact that nearly a quarter of all businesses owned by of natives in the United States are in the hospitality industry, providing nearly 118,000 jobs and generating $14. billions of dollars in revenue per year.

Native Experiences Across California

Following the press conference, tourism officials, tribal officials and attending media traveled to the nearby Indian Canyons Golf Resort. There, they got a sampling of some of the experiences and tribes travelers will be able to experience on the Visit Native California platform once it goes live.

Among them, travelers can head to the state’s northern border with Oregon and visit Yurok Country by Redwood National Forest. There they can learn about the Yurok’s stewardship of the primeval forests and pristine coastlines of this part of California, take guided canoe trips in huge one-piece redwood canoes, or enjoy boat rides. Thrilling jetboat along the Klamath River.

An olive oil tasting offered by Seka Hils. ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

Further south in Tuolumne County, near the edge of Yosemite National Park, travelers can meet Me-Wuk tribesmen and learn their language during educational sessions and take seasonal guided tours immersing themselves in their ancient way of life and how they lived off the land.

About an hour’s drive northwest of Sacramento in the Capay Valley, guests of Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s Cache Creek Casino Resort can spend an afternoon sampling the olive oils and gourmet wines produced in Seka Hills, among other activities.

The meeting was followed by a specially prepared lunch by Chef Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland. She is a member of the Kickapoo Nation of Oklahoma, but grew up in Oakland, and her restaurant pays homage to the Ohlone land in which she lives and where her restaurant is located. Dishes included specialties like pumpkin squash soup with edible flowers and chili oil and bison meatballs with dried blueberries as well as a tangy but sweet chia berry pudding with a crispy acorn flour chocolate chips.

During the meal, Me-Wuk singers shared songs at the top of their voices and young members of the Oakland tribe performed traditional dances.

Chef Crystal Wahpepah prepared a special lunch for the guests. ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

The day featured a preview of the partners that will be featured on Visit Native California. But even that was enough to reflect the diversity of experiences travelers will encounter at the site, and is an encouraging step forward in promoting native-owned and operated tourism businesses in California, even as other states and other nations around the world are beginning to look to Indigenous tourism businesses of their own to attract travelers.

Given the size of California’s native population and the breadth of activities, places, and landscapes travelers can explore, the state could truly become a driving force for native-inspired travel in the United States. and beyond. Hopefully that will be the case once Visit Native California launches.

Traditional dances performed by members of the tribe visiting from Oakland. ERIC ROSEN/THE DOT GUY

The Agua Caliente cultural plaza, however, is reason enough to be optimistic about the future of indigenous tourism in the state.

Bringing Native Culture to Downtown Palm Springs

The Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza will be a multi-faceted complex where visitors can learn about the traditional inhabitants of the regions around Palm Springs as well as their more than 500 modern descendants. It will be the second largest Native American cultural center in the country.

The center has been under construction since 2015, with a first inauguration in May 2018, and should open in early 2023 at the corner of East Tahquitz Canyon Way and North Indian Canyon Drive. The 5.8 acre lot is right in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, just blocks from points to popular city hotels, including the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs and the pet-friendly Hyatt Palm Springs.

Designed by JCJ Architecture and The Penta Building Group in collaboration with the Cahuilla Nation, the center will include a few distinct elements. A new iteration of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum will house artwork and artifacts dating back thousands of years. An Oasis trail with a water feature lined with native California palm trees will give visitors a taste of the area’s unique ecology.

There will also be an expansive wellness center called the Spa at Sec-he, which means “boiling water,” alluding to the mineral hot springs from which Palm Springs takes its name. In addition to the 22 treatment rooms, visitors can enjoy public baths for men and women and a tranquility garden to relax before or after treatments as well as outdoor mineral pools for healthy baths, a lounge and of a fitness center.

Come for the museum, stay for the spa… or vice versa.

As for Visit Native California, the platform promises to be an exciting first step in shedding light on the many peoples who inhabited California before the arrival of Europeans and supporting the fascinating tourist activities their descendants created as they moved on. strive to share their cultures with visitors to this day. .

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