Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

NATOW Conference Strengthens Tourism Efforts

The 2019 Native American Tourism of Wisconsin (NATOW) Conference was held at the Bad River Lodge & Casino this week.

NATOW is an inter-Tribal consortium made up of the 11 federally recognized Tribes of Wisconsin. The annual conference is meant to provide an avenue for networking, educating and building partnerships based on the Native tourism business in the state of Wisconsin. According to their website, the mission of NATOW is “to promote tourism featuring Native American heritage and culture.”

The conference began with a golf outing on Monday at Chequamegon Bay Golf Club. A reception followed at the Bad River Casino Convention Center, followed by an awards ceremony.

On Tuesday, Mike Wiggins, Jr., Chairman of the Bad River Tribe, welcomed everyone to the community. Apache Danforth, NATOW Director, explained the importance of the conference, and thanked all of their partners. She also shared that the Tribes are moving away from just being Tribes with casinos to Tribes with places to see, places to go and things to do.

Mandela Barnes, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, was a guest speaker and spoke of the unique opportunity and relationship that Tribes have with the state. He stated that each Tribe offers something unique, and that it is important for the Tribes to be at the table.

When asked what he would do if he had a bigger budget, Lt. Governor Barnes replied that he would focus more on environmental tourism. Activities such as fishing, hiking, preventing and removing invasive species, improving bike and walking trails, funding mass transportation and offering more transit options were among his priorities.

“Native American tourism gives a chance to experience Native American cultures,” Lt. Governor Barnes said. “There is a world of opportunity in tourism. We want to promote all parts of Wisconsin, and promote it together.”

He then presented Tribal leadership with a plaque recognizing the efforts and importance of NATOW and Native tourism.

Sara Meaney, Secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, spoke to the group, and Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, presented information on how Indian gaming has affected the gaming business across the country. He noted that Indian gaming has been in the top percentage in gaming across America, surpassing Las Vegas, and that Indian Country is the 12th largest employer in the country. He stated that the Tribes are experts in the industry, and shared that the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) was created to teach, assist and protect Tribes involved in gaming. He also noted that there are over 300,000 jobs in Indian gaming, which could be doubled when jobs involving in tourism are added, and that more than $1.2 billion has been donated to charitable organizations.
An Economic Development panel featured Jeff Bowman, Fern Orie, Diane House and Rob Pero. Brian Allen of the Native Freedom Trust and members of the Red Cliff Tribal Tourism Team also gave presentations. A traditional dinner was hosted by the Bad River Lodge & Casino, and the conference concluded with a tour of the Bad River Community and Madeline Island.
Kimberlee Soldier, Mole Lake Lodge Manager, enjoyed attending the conference on behalf of the Tribe. “We are one of the 11 Tribes in Wisconsin and tourism is important for our community growth,” Kimberlee said. “We get a chance to meet and network with folks from other Tribes as well as folks from the state tourism department. There are many great things to learn at NATOW, and being a part of it is awesome. Cheyenne Landru introduced me to the rest of the board three years ago when I attended my first conference at the North Star Mohican Casino. There I met Shannon Holsey and Apache Danforth, two very well known and respected leaders in their own communities.”

“It’s fun learning different marketing ideas as well. Our Tribe and casino are a sponsor of the conference every year, and NATOW is a sponsor of the Oak Lake Ice Fishing Jamboree and our June Strawberry Moon Powwow,” Kimberlee continued.

“This year I am grateful to have Kellee Gallion, my sister, and Kobe, my nephew, attend with me. This was their first year. It’s an awesome event, and I look forward to next year in Keshena!”

More information on the conference and the important work that NATOW does may be viewed at the NATOW website.