Travel: Lower Brule Sioux Tribe invites tourists

"It was late afternoon, and the sun was falling into the west, as Scott Jones and I followed a ribbon of highway winding through Indian country. To our right, the Missouri River ran slowly south. Behind us, Lower Brule, the small town at the heart of the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation, receded. And all around us were hills and memories and ghosts.

In front of us, however, was the Native American Scenic Byway, Jones's crowning achievement in his effort to do something rare and maybe even revolutionary: Indian cultural tourism. Not just casinos. Not just truck stop wooden chiefs. Not just Wild West reenactments.

No, this is something different, something being done on just a few Indian reservations, but something that is growing. Finally, Native American and other cultures are meeting as equals, sort of: The tourists are starting to come here to dip a toe in reservation life and culture and history.

Jones and I drove down the road, past the run-down houses, past the buffalo herd the Lower Brule Sioux tribe owns, past the vast stretch of plants and grass on the side of the road that, to my eyes, all looked the same.

"I could give you the spiel," Jones said and looked at his watch, "but we're on a schedule." Indeed, we were racing to get to the Buffalo Interpretive Center before it closed. The center is just a small museum and gift shop the tribe recently built, but it's yet another jewel in the Lower Brule's tourism tiara, which is starting to draw wasichu -- outsiders -- away from South Dakota's Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA and the Black Hills that help make up the state's $865 million a year tourism industry.

Which spiel Jones gives depends on a form you fill out, indicating what you're interested in: Geology? History? Treaty issues? Reservation life circa 2007? And so on."

Get the Story:
Spirits in the Material World (The Washington Post 9/16)

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