Memo to the Poarch Creeks: Museums trump casinos

Native America calls attention to a Montana survey of “Indian country” tourists that found only slight interest in gambling, but strong interest in museums, historic landmarks, and opportunities to learn about tribal history and culture. Tourists also complained of a lack of up-to-date information about reasons to visit reservations.

Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, has been buying up a few historic Creek townsites — places that have been neglected since the forced removal of most of the Creeks in the 1830s. But the tribe is also pursuing gambling, and this is the side of their economic development strategy that has attracted the most attention — and resistance. In the past month the tribe responded with image-building commercials on Alabama TV (timed with the legislative session, apparently).

The Montana survey found that only 18 percent of tourists who now visit reservations were interested in gambling at an Indian establishment, while 62 percent disagreed strongly with the idea. Among tourists who do not visit Indian reservations, 6 percent strongly agreed with Indian gambling, and 49 percent strongly disagreed.

Support for historic and cultural tourism was much stronger, with more than half of reservation visitors indicating a strong interest in learning about tribal history and culture.

Skeptics might suspect that the survey was designed to return an anti-gambling result. This is possible, and if I worked for the Poarch Band, I would find a copy of the survey and examine the details. (The Billings Gazette story is here [dead link].) But to my mind, the strength of the numbers suggests an authentic pattern. Even if the design of the survey should overestimate the anti-gambling majority, it seems likeliest that that majority exists. History and culture is likely to prove the most rewarding strategy for tourism development.

I have a strong bias, though. I’m a historian of the Creek Indians, and as such I’m completely convinced of their centrality to Alabama and southeastern history, and of the value of creating more opportunities for Alabamians to learn about Creek heritage. But I don’t know how widely my opinion is shared.

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