Travel agencies are monetising their exploitation of indigenous communities

Despite the discourse around maltreatment of indigenous peoples expanding in recent years, the influx of ‘tourism experiences’ this coming 2023 is alarming. 

With some corporations taking the human race anecdote far too literally, it’s frightening to see tour operators prioritising victimisation. Holiday companies can be seen to argue that indigenous travel experiences ‘help, rather than hinder, the world’s oldest communities.’ Likewise, supposed ‘sustainable’ tour operators are said to be ‘offering authentic excursions that foster an appreciation for environmental and cultural conversation.’ Intruding on voluntary isolation as a ‘must-visit culture’ is the next travel trend for this coming year. Indigenous tribes often face economic hardships, government-enforced campaigns, poor resource management, and food scarcity. They are repeatedly coerced into performative acts for the sake of visitors from developed nations. Undoubtedly, most of these stem from manipulation and monetisation for exploring these unfounded communities.

​​In a recent report drafted by the United Nations (UN), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples are infrequently considered in public discourse. Although powerful bodies are aware of such communities, their heritage and living conditions are routinely neglected. More often than not, indigenous communities are drawn upon when it’s recognised that they have access to a resource that the Global North is growing short of. Genocide of indigenous peoples is not a new concept, and governments still threaten these communities, showing that we’re not too far from a macabre past.

Black Panther, although fictitious, is the media’s closest representation of the importance of indigenous communities remaining secluded. It’s disturbing that we’ve reached a point in history wherein the film industry is responsible for elucidating society to such pivotal communities into the broader world.  It must be pointed out that the film industry is heavily operated within North America - one of the world’s largest settler colonies. Hollywood continues to capitalise critical social issues for the sole purpose of financial gain and acclamation as opposed to spreading awareness to the matters at hand. In situations where film conglomerates are in a position to aid awareness surrounding such cardinal affairs, their priorities are money-oriented, arguably even neocolonial. 

In both Black Panther movies, we witness the concocted country ‘Wakanda’ being pressurised from alternate nations to share ‘vibranium’ – a resource that wields inconceivable power. The most recent film, Wakanda Forever, portrays an additional concealed community from ‘Talokan’ who are also at risk of resource exploitation if powerful bodies discover their existence. Additionally, the new Avatar film has been reproved for its appropriation of indigenous identity. Whilst many argue that the films are rich in mythology, offering a fairer representation of communities worldwide and, in part, celebrating indigenous cultures, it can also be said that they present an unrealistic depiction of the millions of indigenous peoples. According to Greenpeace UK, approximately 476 million worldwide self-identify as Indigenous Peoples. Since when did people's livelihoods become a spectacle? This feels far too familiar to the exhibitions of so-called biological rarities that peaked in the 1800s. This isn’t an entirely new concept, and one that many are closer to than they may think.  My grandma recently shared with me that on her early noughties trip to Bolivia, upon reaching Lake Titicaca, tour participants were not allowed to exit the bus until the Uru people were deployed into their laborious positions.

Despite several operators arguing that indigenous tourism provides new opportunities for the communities, it’s almost impossible to ignore questions surrounding white inquisition. Many revel in the unknown, but when people's livelihoods are at stake, we must question whether they’ve gone too far. In a world where social media is our only platform for giving voice to the silenced, surely there is another way to go. If tourists are so desperate to discover the realities of native living, they would already be aware of indigenous peoples' fight to live off the grid and away from the chaos that society finds itself in. We possess an innate knowledge of indigenous peoples' desire to remain uncontactable, yet many are choosing to disrespect their wishes. 

In an article for TIME, Jonathon Mazower argued the very reasons uncontacted tribes must remain as such. Mazower advises that they choose to have no contact with the mainstream world due to bouts of catastrophic violence and disease. Mazower’s repetition of ‘choice’ by the Indigenous peoples is a constant within this article- something which many fail to remember. By overtly and unethically ignoring their decision, travel companies and tourists disrespect boundaries and continue our racist past. Mazower even argues that indigenous peoples' exposure to urbanised citizens significantly risks their health. Due to the lack of access to western medicines and health resources, indigenous peoples adopt a lesser immunity to viral infections; thus, one outbreak can be fatal. Mazower uses the example of Peru’s Nahua people, wherein over half the population passed from exposure to deadly pathogens. Today we witness a plethora of research around why indigenous peoples want to be left alone, yet the message still isn’t clear to many. Not only do tourists expose unready risks, but they also do so against explicit and clearly defined wishes, ultimately making a mockery of lifestyles.

Article by Katie Mortimer

Keep up with Katie of Instagram and Twitter


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