Home Events The Potential of Indigenous-led Tourism for Socio-Ecological Justice, Activism and Disability Awareness (On Demand: Recorded)

The Potential of Indigenous-led Tourism for Socio-Ecological Justice, Activism and Disability Awareness (On Demand: Recorded)

Main Topic: Indigenous Knowledge, Perspectives, and Approaches
Session Type: Paper


This presentation proposes that Indigenous voices, knowledges and values can be raised, strengthened and shared with others through a deeper understanding of Indigenous-led tourism carried out on Native lands, waters and sites of activism and stewardship. Beginning with a glimpse of lands promised to a diverse set of Tribal Nations forcibly removed to northeastern Oklahoma in the 19th century, this presentation starts by examining the Tar Creek region and its story of Indigenous activism since the 1980s. The landscape and waterways of Tar Creek and surrounding communities have been irrevocably assaulted by toxins, pollutions and illness as a result of 20th century lead mining and the waste left behind (Manders & Aber, 2014). But the land and water have not been the only ones impacted. Since the 1990s, a large percentage of children have tested positive for high blood lead levels, indicating toxic lead exposure and in many cases, impacts on health and development, including learning disabilities (Karkowski, et al, 2014).  At the forefront of efforts to keep the clean-up and support of the Tar Creek Superfund Site going are the Tar Creek Toxic Tours put on by the Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD) Agency, an organization co-founded and led by Rebecca Jim (Cherokee Nation). By exploring the potential offered by these Tar Creek Toxic Tours, this article echoes claims made by Pezzullo (2007) that toxic tourism—along with activism tourism—can harness processes of connection between visitors, locals and living landscapes towards the goals of agency, empowerment and social-ecological change. Yet by bringing in Indigenous perspectives to the conversation on tourism, this paper asserts that the capabilities of toxic and activist tours can be expanded to also include meaningful engagement with the histories, values and priorities of sovereign Native Nations. Turning from Tar Creek to other sites of Indigenous-led stewardship and activism that face possible exploitation—including the Protect Mauna Kea Movement (Goodyear-Ka’ōpua, 2017; Casumbal-Salazar, 2017), the Keystone XL Pipeline Protest (Lightfoot & MacDonald, 2017), the Standing Rock Protest (Estes, 2019), among others—this study begins an exploratory conversation about the potential for Indigenous-led tourism to educate the wider community, strengthen Indigenous values and knowledges and ultimately, support the connections to land and water at the heart of these struggles. In utilizing tourism as a tool for these Indigenous-led struggles, toxic and activism tourism present potential pathways not only for social and ecological justice from an Indigenous perspective and embodied “everyday acts of resurgence” (Corntassel et al, 2018), but also possibilities for tourism—an industry that has long had a difficult legacy with Indigenous peoples—to be transformed (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2020).

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will learn more about the Tar Creek Superfund Site, Indigenous history in Oklahoma and Indigenous-led activism, environmental remediation, lead exposure and impacts on health including disability.
  • Participants will learn about toxic tours and activism tours and the potential they present for education, socio-ecological justice, Indigenous sovereignty, disability awareness, storytelling, Indigenous languages and building relationships between people and the environment.
  • Participants will be able to think more critically about how Indigenous and community-led tourism may serve as an important tool in their community for raising awareness about important issues central to Indigenous lives and wellbeing.

Keywords: Indigenous knowledges, Indigenous activism, toxic tourism, activism tourism, socio-ecological justice, disability and lead toxicity awareness, Native sovereignty

View the Session: https://community.pacrim.coe.hawaii.edu/groups/4189398/feed


Feb 23 2021 - May 01 2021

Local Time

  • Timezone: America/New_York
  • Date: Feb 23 2021 - May 02 2021
View the Session: Virtual Space


  • Ms. Bobbie Chew Bigby
    Ms. Bobbie Chew Bigby
    University of Notre Dame Australia, Nulungu Research Institute - PhD Student

    University of Notre Dame Australia, Nulungu Research Institute

    Bobbie Chew Bigby is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bobbie has BA degrees in Chinese Language/Literature, as well as Anthropology. Bobbie obtained her MA degree in International Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia as a Rotary Peace Fellow from 2014-2015. Bobbie also holds an MS degree in Arts and Culture Administration as an AIANTA Scholar from Drexel University. Bobbie completed her thesis research on examining the potential for cultural tourism development among Tribal Nations (Quapaw, Shawnee and Miami Tribes) in far Northeastern Oklahoma. Bobbie has engaged in research focused on Indigenous peoples, tourism and connections to traditional culture in China, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Australia and back home in Oklahoma Indian Country. Bobbie is currently based between Broome, Australia and Tulsa, Oklahoma where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Notre Dame Australia focused on comparative Indigenous cultural tourism. This research is being supported through the West Australian Government’s JTSI Science/Tourism Fellows program and the University’s Research Training Program. Bobbie is also engaged in co-editing and co-writing a book focused on reexamining the possibilities for tourism post-COVID 19 and the ways that tourism can better support social and ecological justice. Bobbie has a deep passion for Indigenous-participation in tourism and believes that tourism can be used as a tool for culture and language revitalization, along with environmental stewardship.