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Indigenous cultures challenged by ecotourism Arvid Viken Associate Professor Finnmark University College, N-9509 Alta e-mail: arvid.viken@hifm.no, phone: +47 7845 0365

Abstact: This paper deals with the nexus between indigenous peoples and ecotourism, exemplified with evidence from the Sรกmi Area of Northern Scandinavia. The presentation discusses the different ways tourism influences and changes cultural expressions and conceptions through materialisation, focussing on objects, contributing to frozen images and the essensialisation, and thus also risking to strengthening stereotype perceptions and the process of othering. The vital question related to ecotourism is to what degree and how this type of tourism can hinder the negative sides of these tendencies. This is discussed, but no clear answer is given, other than that the ecotourism society has a responsibility taking into account such impacts and to cope with them in ways acceptable for the cultures in question.

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Introduction Indigenous tourism normally are business activities showing and trading the daily life, history, traditions, special artefacts and environment of the culture in question, by Valene Smith (1996) called history, heritage, handicraft and habitat. Hinch and Butler (1996: 9) define indigenous tourism as “tourism activity in which indigenous people are directly involved either through control and/or by having their culture serve as the essence of the attraction”. Recent years, there has been a growing interest for indigenous cultures in the tourist market, and many places tourism has been both a contributor and a driving force concerning exposure and renewal of indigenous cultures. In this paper indigenous tourism will be related to ecotourism. Ecotourism has been a growing branch, and is often seen as an opportunity for local community to develop tourism, without needing huge investments and large amounts of capital. Ecotourism involves principles that are difficult to disagree upon. However, it is also obvious that ecotourism has impacts on indigenous communities, along with many other modernising institutions. Nagel (1996:46-48) discusses different ways tourism has given energy to indigenous societies; as cultural revival, cultural restoration, cultural revision and cultural innovations. But the accounts showing negative cultural impacts are far too many (cf. Crick 1989, MacCannell 1992, Van den Berghe 1994, Smith 1978, Saarinen 1999). The focus in this paper will firstly be on how tourism tends to influence the images of a culture both outside and within the culture, particularly discussing some processes that creates stereotype attitudes. Then the presentation turns to ecotourism, and discusses to what degree this particular form of tourism represents a solution of the problems which the stereotypes represent. As examples of the problems, evidence from the Sámi areas is used, based on research concerning this northern indigenous tourism since the mid 1990s. Therefore the paper starts with presentation of tourism to the area of the Sámi people; Sápmi.

Tourism in Sápmi Tourism to the Sámi areas of Scandinavia can be characterised as indigenous and ethnic tourism. The Sámi are widely accepted as an indigenous people, also acknowledged by the Norwegian authorities that in 1990 signed the ILO convention 169 about indigenous peoples’ rights (Minde 2003). The Sámi core areas are found in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, but the Sámi have settled all over the Nordic countries. To estimate the size of the Sámi population is difficult, somewhere between 30 000 and 80 000. There are not

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any clear differences between Sámi and non-Sámi settlements. The signs of Sáminess can therefore seem to be rare if one is not particularly trained in reading them. There are different types of tourism in the area. For most visitors Sámi culture is an exotic element on a tour to North Cape that since the late 1980s has been visited by around 200 000 people yearly. To this destination, only tourists arriving by ship do not cross through Sápmi. Tourism in the Sámi inland districts is mainly a post-war phenomenon. As roads were built across Sápmi and to North Cape (1956), the patterns of travelling changed, and the Sámi culture became a more important ingredient in the summer tourism. Other tourist activities have been hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling and dog- sledding. The Easter Festival is an important traditional event that for a couple of decades has attracted more and more tourists. In Finnish Lappland there is a significant winter tourism and a Christmas (Santa Claus) tourism, wherein Sámi culture is an element. The same is the case in Jukkasjävri, a Swedish Sámi village and a tourist destination recently most known for its magnificent ice hotel. In Sweden there is another significant Sámi tourism to the Jokkmokk festival, in February where most of the tourists also are Sámi (cf. Petterson 2004).

The urge for authenticity The urge for authenticity is a strong motive for many tourists (cf. MacCannell 1976). The tourists ask if what they see is real, genuine or authentic. The answer is not easy, due to the fact that cultural is a dynamic phenomenon, but also based on territorial boundaries. Can for instance a cultural expression be authentic for a person from another culture? Most artefacts and performances are interwoven with the culture as a whole, as a system of meanings and values. Thus to fully recognize the significance of an observed object or act there is a need for cultural competence far beyond what tourists normally possess. And, according to McCannell (1976), as a tourist you perform a role that puts you at a distance from objects and people constituting the culture in question; the tourist is front stage, the local culture behind. Most tourists lack contextual knowledge to understand what they observe. Sitting in the tent as the Sámi do, or at a fireplace, tourists are spectators, not able to transcend the thick layer of cultural boundary that lies in between, but still it is an exciting experience. Due to the growing interest in indigenous cultures, most places have an increased awareness of the commercial opportunities in travel; more and more cultural expressions are transferred to goods and services for the tourist market. This is the process of commodification (cf. Cohen 1988, Frow 1997). Commodification means that cultural expressions that used to have a particular meaning in a certain social and cultural context, is 3


transformed to something that is valorised and governed by market forces. The value of an expression is no longer an internal matter, but decided upon by others. Normally something happens when a cultural item or act is transformed from a cultural expression to something to be sold and purchased. The obvious change that can be observed in the Sámi world is that the items and remedies go through a process of adaptation (Viken 1997); some traditional artefacts as knives, cups and furs become aesthetizised, the tent and boats used to transport and accommodate tourist become bigger and more comfortable, the Sámi song genre, joik, is turning into jazz, pop music and even hip hop, and accompanied by drums and dance in ways not known before. There are several reactions to this; the positive view is that this is innovations and development, the negative is that this is no longer genuine, but a commercial tourist-culture. Most Sámi seem to be rather tolerant concerning the tourism use of their culture as it goes on in Norway. However, they often emphasis that it must be real Sámi, without being able to say what that is. Others seem to realise that tourism means employment, and it is even admitted that tourism exposures represent an arena for maintaining and developing cultural traditions. However, for most people there seem to be a limit concerning how far the commercialisation process can go, most of them being able to exemplify transgressions (Viken 2006a). On the other side, many cultural expressions that have lost their function within the Sámi daily life, are today used for leisure or tourist purposes, and often given a more suitable form, but given a new existence. However, as will be outlined below, independent of standpoint, the use of culture for touristic purposes, contribute to changed perception or image of the culture.

Cultural implications of the commodification processes; stereotyping and othering There are two major tendencies concerning the indigenous self-presentation that meet the tourists in the Sámi area. The first is a modern world where the indigenousness of the society is vague. The second is a staged indigenousness presented in museums, tourist attractions and by tourist hosts in different ways. Often the indigenous people wear traditional costumes to be more exotic and to live up to the expectations of the tourists. This adds to keeping alive picture of the traditional cultures, and as Kirshenblat Gimblett (1998) says cultural markers tend to be unchanged in a tourism context, by MacCannell (1992) called “frozen images”. Such tendencies can be tied to phenomena such as materialisation, objectification, reification, essensialization, metonymisation, related concepts with varying connotations. All these process are adding to a tendency of stereotyping or othering. A stereotype is a rigid mental image of characteristics of a culture or a group often attached to individuals, normally not 4


covering the whole picture of the culture in question. Pickering distinguishes a stereotypy from a category that for him is more neutral term, stereotyping is to ” chain a person to a stunted abbreviation for a group or category in a way that denies or diminishes their individuality and agency.” (Pickering 2004: 100) In stereotypes there are no rooms for individuality. For Pickering a stereotype is based on ideology and power, unlike categories that is based on a cultural or scientific evidence. He shows how for instance race differences are integrated in our way of thinking and talking about ethnic differences. ‘Whiteness’ is taken for granted and not racially marked in the same way as ‘black’ (Pickering 2004: 91). Very many of the stereotypes that exist have a reference to unbalanced differences between social groups, where the one is standard or normal, from which the other is different, divert or deviate. Stereotyping is a term closely related to othering; othering is a modern term for stereotyping, as Pickering sees it (2001: 47). However, he also claim that othering has a wider perspective, “bringing more clearly into frame both those involved in the process of othering as well as the object of this process, and by grounding stereotypical misrepresentations more firmly in the structures and relations of power which give them their binding force.” (Pickering 2001: 69). Indigenous people are treated as something different, not as one of “us”, but as the Other. The major societies and the national states have created themselves as the neutral standard, ethnic groups as ‘ethnic’ or ‘indigenous’ minorities. This is the process of othering (Fabian 1978), a process to which tourism obviously is a strong contributor, as explorers, the missioners and social anthropologists before them (Fabian 1983, Islam 1994, Jordan 1995, Mathisen 2004).

Cultural implications of the commodification processes Concerning materialisation there are at least two approaches that can be found; one that sees it as symbols of cultural processes; as “transformations of ideas, values, stories, myths" (DeMarrais et al. 1996: 16). As DeMarrais et al. (1996) see it, the materialisation can enact as storytelling, performences, symbolic constructs, buildings, artefacts and texts. For instance are religion represented both in narratives, rituals, icons and texts. To tourism, the existence of texts about places to visit, is a prerequisite. A website constructed by some Sámi tour operators in the late 1990s (www.Sámitour.no) is a cultural narrative more than anything else. Even of good quality, it is both a contribution to the narratives about the culture and both to its fixity and change. Tilley (1990:332) claims that “to write about material culture is to produce material culture", and therefore "the objects within a text is always a discursive 5


object". Therefore, most objects change their significance when being textualised and narrated. For instance, the stallo, the Sámi troll, used to be scaring. Due to modern approaches to upraising and teaching, and as a creature in books and television for children, the stallo has become a caring and moralising figure. By using local artefacts in new ways, they change meaning. The Sámi tent, the lavvo is not a strong signifier of reindeer herding any more, but rather a sign of leisure and tourism. In fact, the modernising of the lavvo, light material and easy to put up, together with the skidoo, has created a new type of leisure activity reaching far beyond the Sámi community, and much used within tourism. There are two expressions that both relate to materialisation; objectifying and reification. Objectifying has been used as a term indicating a strong emphasis on objects – or; material aspects of a culture, as those we gaze upon as tourists. Tourism is in this way contributing to this process, focussing on the visible sides of a culture. Hollinshead (1998) claims that in tourism presentations of indigenous cultures the objects and places are given priority, giving little emphasis to their meaning, use and benefit (1996:337). This is strongly the case in the Sámi context, the culture often identified by a tent, costume, reindeer, more or less overlooking the Sámi way of understanding nature, thinking and speaking. Both books, travelogues, television presentations, marketing material, Internet sites and other information create expectations that tourist hosts try to fulfil (Heimtun 2001, Dann 1999). The tourist hosts tend to wear traditional costumes, although this is not common everyday clothing any more. And the Sámi tourist host are often criticised by the modern clothed and thinking reindeer herders for presenting a museum-like image of the culture (Lyngnes og Viken 1998). The other way of defining objectifying is Marxian; as a process through which the producer (worker) becomes alienated towards the product he or she is creating (DeMarrais et al. 1996:16). In a discussion of ‘desidentification of aborginal life, Hollinshead (1998) seems to use a marxist interpretation of the term ‘objectification’. In the contexts of tourisms, those being portrayed tend to feel alienated from the image given of them. This has also been a critique of the Finnish use of the Sámi within tourism; it is partly presentation to which people feel alienated. There are other aspects of the touristic interpretation of culture that are ethically and politically disputable. One is the process of metonymization. It happens when a trait or a sign of a trait is seen as typical for a whole culture. Cohen (1993) shows how postcards produce metonyms – they show the town, the museum or the beach in the way the tourists expect to see them, and often also experience them. However, most often the reality is much more complex and complicated. There are a series of accounts showing how people in the west tend 6


to metonymically freeze the perceptions of indigenous peoples and Third World tribes (Crick 1989, Clifford 1997:24, Dann 1999, McCannell 1992). Grønhaug (1975) has shown how symbols and metaphors of the Sámi culture are reinterpreted metonymically through social and cultural processes within the Norwegian public. As the Sámi often wear a costume on public events. This is taken for being typical Sámi, but does not cohere with the Sámi contemporary everyday life. Since reindeer herding is a central marker of the Sámi culture, all Sámi are supposed to be reindeer herders. Less than ten per cent are. Since some Sámi speak the Sámi language, you are not a real Sámi if you do not, and so on. The perception of the Sámi culture as traditional and different is extremely strong, and all the similarities with for instance the Norwegian culture are underemphasised. One major consequence of the metonymic interpretations of culture, is that there is tendency for people of mixed origin falling apart (Nagel 2000). The Sámi living at the coast and those having lost the language are often not reckoned to be part the Sámi world. "Reifying" is a process and a concept first applied by Georg Lukacs in the meaning of commodification (jf. Edgar og Sedgwick 1999:333) and de-enchantment (Germain 1993:43). This is according to Lukacs, and before him Max Weber, prominent traits of the modern world. Reifying means that an experience or prevailing opinion get status as truth, facts, correct, autonomous, impersonal, objective and so on. More generally, the term refers to the processes through which a culture is being conceived as a fixed structure that more or less gives directions for people’s lives and accepted as truth (Keesing 1994). To present a model that explains the traditional siida, the basic social unit within the traditional Sámi world, can have such an impact, and often get more emphasis as it deserves as the siida conception constantly changes (cf. Henriksen 1993). This reification, also called essensialization of a culture, gives direction for how the outer world treat this group of people, within casual communication (Viken 2006a) and in the realm of politics (Viken 2001). However, in a study done some years ago both Norwegian and Swedish Sámi frequently claimed to be politically treated different because they are Sámi (Petterson and Viken 2007). Despite an encompassing establishment of Sámi institutions recent decades, the Sámi still feel they are maltreated by the national authorities in all the Scandinavian countries; they still have to fight for welfare arrangements that are out of discussion in the majority society. But also in interpersonal interactions they often feel being treated different. One officer at the Sámidiggi, the Sámi Parliament, involved in national and international Sámi affairs, claimed that to be clothed traditionally in the costume blocked the normal converstation; then people are unable to treat him as an equal professional partner – a problem 7


he did not have wearing a suite (Viken 2006a). Thus, the othering is a mental switch people do more or less automatically and strongly felt as a problem for those regarded as the Other. In fact it is the Other’s counterpart that changes, not the Other. However, othering is not only a negative process, it can be maintained. Public and political awareness of the processes of othering have many places given way for empowerment for indigenous peoples. It is due to the ethnic otherness, that the Norwegian Sámi have got their own parliament, their own university college, their acceptance an indigenous people. Thus, to be other can be a political resource. Ethno-politics is more of less a celebration of otherness as a matter of identity. It is as an ascription made by others that othering has got negative connotations.

Indigenous people and ecotourism All types of tourism put pressure on nature and culture. Ecotourism is no exception. However, it is pretty obvious that most of those using this term have better intention of a harmful tourism performance than those not applying the term. However, there are a variety of definitions ranging from those using ecotourism synonymously with nature based tourism, to those applying a rather strict definition of the term, referring to it as ecologically sustainable tourism based on strong definition both of ecology and sustainability. Although a concern for nature is a major point in all definitions, most of them see culture as an aspect of ecotourism, both concerning experiences and impacts (cf. Blamey 1997). The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) opererated with the following crietera for ecotourism in year 2002, the UN ecotourism year: “1) Ecotourism includes all nature based tourism where observations and comprehension of nature and traditional culture is a major motive. 2) Ecoturim includes an element of interpretation and learning. 3) Ecotourism operations normally is organised in small groups. 4) Ecoturism minimalizes its negative impacts on natural and cultural environments. 5) Ecotourism support protection of natural environments through creation of economic benefit for the host community, and through providing alternative opportunity for work and income, and through an increased comprehension of preservation of natural and cultural values both in the local community and among the tourists.” (WTO 2001) In the following these principles for ecotourism are confronted with the above presented cultural implications of indigenous tourism. Table 1 sums up the tendency, based on the 8


Table 1: Ecotourism impacts on culture

Nature and traditional culture as motive Making culture Promotion and concrete/ informations is formalising a type of culture formali-sation (materialisation) of images of a culture Tendency to focus the charismatic and the spectacular Generalising Promotion creand fixing the ates strong perimages of the ceptions often Other based on (Metonymisation elements of a /reification culture /essentialisation) Focussing on objects (objectification)

Presenting the reality as different, not focussing equalities (othering)

To experience otherness is the major reason for travelling and visits to indige-nous areas

Minimalizes negative Interpretation impacts on and learning nature and culture Interpretation Part of the eco and storytelling narratives, and is vital, the emphasis is however this is recently said to get a strengthened less vital place by WTO these days Overfocusing Can be set the spectacular aside in to create chasing the extraordinary exotic objects experiences There is a tend- There is a ency to focus tendency to on some highlight and elements and treat particular ignoring the problem or culture as a case as whole representing the totality The unique and Presenting the particular is nature/culture normally in focus as emphasised particularly and the vulnerable and ordinary is preservable can ignored take focus away from other problems

Creating jobs. income and comprehension for preservation

With international ecotourism ventures entering the scene; more need for formal documentation A need for local knowledge to find and handle the attractions Yes, but can lead to antagonisms due to different comprehensions in tourism and among locals (hunt, skidoo) Overfocussing concervation needs preserves the image of not-modern cultures

evidence that exists. The principle of small scale is not included in the table. It should be said that this principle in facts has a positive impact on the other principles; a better chance of communication and teaching the tourists, lowering the pressure and better preservation, more jobs for guides and so on. However, there is also a problem concerning how this principle should be interpreted. What is small, and what is not small, and who decides? Concerning the table above there are some of the squares that are more of a problem than others. In the first row the major point is that when materialising a culture in pictures,

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narratives and exposures always will be extracts. Then something slips away, and often the wholeness of an indigenous culture is not understood, but people can have got a good picture of how the Sámi tent is built and used, and so on. And there is of course a tendency towards an over-focus on objects. These problems are in fact thoroughly discussed in the cultural heritage literature (Lowentahl 1997, Tunbridge and Asforth 1996); a tendency to emphasis the particular, monumental, beautiful, rich man’s world and so on. Within ecotourism this tendency can be seen through the highlighting of charismatic and peculiar nature or culture phenomena, ignoring an ecological holistic perspective. Concerning the metonymization, reification and othering processes ecotourism is more or less by definition a contributor. Obviously, the otherness is a major theme in promotion of indigenous tourism, be it eco- or not (Heimtun 2001, Olsen 2003). And the Sámi tourist hosts more or less confirm the otherness. To put on the Sámi costume is to put on a mythical role that gives hosts strong positionsand authority as culture interpreters. And presenting the unique sides of a culture – as done all over the world – the vital traditions and customs adds to the images of a different culture, most often also to the perception of a less developed and more primitive culture. The simple, nature based living, is “primitive” in the eyes of modern urban people. However, there are reasons to believe (but hardly any evidence) that the presentations within an ecotourism realm may be less stereotyping than under other circumstances, due to the fact of small groups that make the educational element more efficient. Concerning the minimalizing of environmental effects, the most interesting part is that the whole idea of ecotourism may be a metonym, a generalisation on the basis of some good ideas and examples. In fact, this depends very much on the definition of ecotourism that is chosen. Related to the strong definitions, there is many obvious environmental impacts also of ecotourism. Concerning the cultural side, the demonstration effect, the modernisation impact, the commodification processes are inevitable. But, they might have been equally strong without tourism, as most indigenous cultures wanting to be part of the modern world. Another interesting fact is that there obviously are different interpretations of what are the best eco practices. This is clearly shown by Nepal (2004) reporting the significance of hunt in their conceptions of a sustainable development. Similarly, when asked about central element in their culture, the Sámi tend to mention the skidoo (Viken 2006a), by most ecotourism supporters seen as an environmental monster. However, most Norwegian Sámi tourist hosts would not call their operations for ecotourism, due to the strong definition that prevails in Norway (Viken 2006b). 10


Conclusion Ecotourism is a good principle, and it is better to keep on to their values than not. However, as shown in this presentation, there are several problematic implication of these industrial activities from a cultural and political point of view. As argued above tourism and also ecotourism add to phenomena and processes as objectification, metonymisation, reification (essensialising), here seen as processes that contribute to othering and stereotype attitudes. There is a tendency both in indigenous tourism and ecotourism to highlight the unique, exotic and the otherness. These representations – often related to traditions and a closeness-to-nature image – are seen as representative for the entire culture, this is the process of metonymisation; and often seen as a fact, as a structure that always have been there, and still is viable – this is the reification process. However, the essence of the Sámi society, as is used as an example in this presentation, is not merely strong traditions, but also modernity; it is a society as all other modern societies, except for its Sáminess. This is also the case for very many other indigenous peoples. And the many that are not, also want to take part in this development, but do not have the means or are kept apart by national authorities and economies, being the victims of global inequality and injustice. All in all there are reasons for a portion of ambivalence concerning the indigenous peoples-ecotourism nexus. This is exactly what can be read out of different research accounts concerning tourism in general among the Sámi; they are not against tourism, but there is strong vigilance (Viken 2006a, Petterson and Viken 2007). This is an important signal, and there is obviously both a need for research and discourses concerning both indigenous and eco tourism. The most important the ecotourism society can do, is to provide indigenous people with power and capabilities to govern the development of tourism in their areas; take part in their striving for respect, a certain autonomy, education on all levels and modern democratic institutions. The ecotourism society should take a position, not blow with the wind.

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Indigenous cultures endangered by ecotourism - Manuscript  

GEC 2007: Indigenous cultures endangered by ecotourism - Arvid Viken

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