Members of the Montana Indigenous Tourism Alliance accepting the Governor’s Award on behalf of the group’s founders, Blackfeet Manpower. Photo courtesy Blackfeet Manpower.

Kristin Lamoureux, collegiate associate professor with the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Pamplin College of Business and director of the MSBA-HTM graduate program, recently sat down with Jamie Fonseca, a junior majoring in Business Information Technology, and discussed her research on Indigenous communities at the Ati: Wa:oki Indigenous Community Center.

What does National Native American Heritage Month mean to you?

That’s a great question. This is an area that’s been of great interest to me, but I am not Native American. I try to be a supporter of Native American communities and Indigenous communities around the world. I’ve built a career around trying to be of support.

To me, Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for the amazing cultures and communities here in the United States and all over the world to be seen and to be showcased, and to have their voices heard, which I think is a critical piece, and really one of the reasons I do my research.

What sparked that allyship for you?

It’s a bit of a personal story. I was fortunate enough in high school to receive a Rotary scholarship that allowed me to spend a year in Ecuador, South America. While I was there, I fell in love with the culture, the language, everything, so much so that it prompted me to go back to Ecuador when I finished high school. I went to college in Ecuador and was fortunate to live in a community that had a very vibrant Indigenous population. I was fortunate to be able to live in and be a part of this Indigenous family. That was just amazing.

As a part of my program, we had to do applied research, so we were always going out to do practicums. We spent several occasions in the Amazon and in the rainforest. As I got to meet some of these communities of Indigenous people, it was clear to me that it was an amazing culture with amazing stories and amazing people.

At that same time, petroleum oil was starting to become a mainstay of the economy, and many of these resources were being found in the Amazon. It was clear to me, even at a young age, that tourism was one of those unique opportunities for these communities to be able to support themselves, to create opportunities for economic development, and to counter these extractive industries. That is when I knew I wanted to study tourism and I wanted to help Indigenous communities. 

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Tell us more about your research and the research you do at Virginia Tech

I’ve been with Virginia Tech for seven years. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, I worked with Indigenous populations and rural communities around world. My research is a bit nontraditional. I have been fortunate to be one of those academics who has had a career that is very applied, which is great. It’s allowed me to travel all over the world to do lots of different work, supporting many different Indigenous populations, as well as rural communities, and work with populations where tourism offers an opportunity for all these things that we hope for such as biodiversity conservation, gender equality, poverty alleviation, cultural preservation, and so on. I really see my role as helping to use tourism as a tool to achieve these larger goals. So, my research has been conducted around that focus.

About 15 years ago, one of my mentors at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of the Department of Interior in the United States government, asked if there was a way that we could take what we were doing with Indigenous communities around the world and support Native American communities here in the United States. We worked together to create a toolkit, which I hope is the most plagiarized document on Earth, that serves as a guide to assessing a community's tourism opportunities. As it turned out, while the guide was designed for rural communities, it was very helpful for Native American communities to begin methodically looking at what their tourism offerings were.

I also spent several years looking at the problem that surrounds tribal governance changes. In many communities, the government is just like our national government, where there is a change every two years or every four years and much of the momentum that was being made in economic development, tourism specifically, was lost. So, we started looking at creating a larger structure that was not going to be affected by changing tribal governments. That is how the Indigenous Tourism Alliance came about, to bring together all stakeholders at state and regional levels.

Here at Virginia Tech, we’re supporting Montana and we’re looking into how the tribes of Montana can work together to share their story, to be a unified voice, and to have that kind of collaboration that brings them together. Our methods are a bit different because Virginia has the tribes of Virginia who have been federally recognized only in the last few years, so they are very much in the nation-building stage of their development.

Can you share more about the work you’ve been doing in Montana?

The work we’re doing in Montana is something we’re very proud of. It’s on the other side of the country, so it presents a bit of a challenge, and this isn’t my work, it’s a collaboration, and if I can do anything, it is to serve as a guide to move the conversation forward. We established the Montana Indigenous Tourism Alliance in 2020.

We identified guidelines and responsibilities that can be utilized for different types of businesses such as restaurants, hotels, etc., and we tried to find ways to be as supportive as possible. We partnered with Airbnb to create virtual experiences. Out of that came lots of success and lots of interest, which was great. We’ve worked hard, and the communities that make up the alliance have worked hard. Tourism is a very powerful tool for storytelling, and it provides us a one-on-one opportunity to sit down, share our experiences and learn from each other and the people that own the story. We wanted to make sure that these stories could be told by the originators.

There are a lot of challenges, a lot of traumas in Native American communities, and a lot of disadvantages, and our team, through all these things, created the Montana Indigenous Tourism Alliance. We were recently recognized this past spring at the Montana Governor’s Conference on Tourism for Excellence in Tribal Tourism Development. That was a “proud momma” moment for me and when I watched them go up on the stage, it was incredibly gratifying.

The work has just begun. The thing we need to do, and when I say ‘we’, it’s collective, is to throw some ideas out, and as allies, we must provide the roles and the support to help them do what they want to do. That’s our challenge moving forward.

As a fellow Hokie, I think it’s important for progress to continue. How do you see Hokies continuing this progress and taking the initiative?

The youth are going to make it happen. One of the reasons I love Virginia Tech is because it’s an institution that makes me feel most connected. As a land-grant institution and as an institution that has given back and built unto its motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), I think it comes naturally for Hokies. I think awareness is probably one of the strongest tools we have. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to people, and they’ll say they didn’t know the tribes were still here or they didn’t know there were so many. With more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, there is a large population of native people that still exists. They’re still here. They don’t exist in the past tense that we tend to think about them.

I would encourage Hokies, young or old, to become more aware. Take initiative, and if you haven’t become familiar with our land grant acknowledgment. That is a great place to start.

For more information on National Native American Heritage Month or to give to the Ati:Wa:oki Indigenous Community Center, please visit

Written by A'me Dalton