Contemporary Alaska Native identities and cultural tourism in Sitka

So, How Long Have You Been Native? recounts the complex world of Indigenous tourism in Alaska

By: Ana Staskevich, Staff Writer

Alexis Bunten is an Native Alaskan (Aleut/Yup’ik) scholar and ethnographer. With a PhD in cultural anthropology in hand, Bunten is involved in Indigenous and environmental foundations including the Native-led hub, Bioneers. Her book titled So, How Long Have You Been Native? (2015) has won the Alaska Library Association Award and gives great insight into the nature of Alaskan tourism and Indigenous engagement within the industry.

As Bunten was working on completing her doctorate in anthropology in 2003, she compiled her research within Sitka into this book that employs a brilliant mixture of ethnographic observation, personal memoir storytelling, and academia. In the book, Bunten details her experiences as a tourist guide for Tribal Tours, a tourism company situated in Sitka, Alaska, as part of her required fieldwork for her graduate studies. She explains that she chose Tribal Tours because it was run by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, of the Tlingit People, and she wanted to work for a nation different from her own. 

The beginning passages of Bunten’s book paint a vivid picture of the coastal town that is Sitka, bringing to life the daily interactions between locals and tourists. Bunten goes on to share her experiences with rivalling tourism companies and even tensions within her group of coworkers. She refuses to shy away from the distasteful encounters with tourists, emphasizing issues of racism, social skins, and colonization by applying personal anecdotes.

However, Bunten’s writing can fall short in various areas by being too repetitive and cumbersome. Her habit of adding detail-heavy, and sometimes unnecessary, passages can disengage readers from the experience. The book otherwise still provides enough perspective to tie up a satisfying conclusion.

So, How Long Have You Been Native? is a perfect read for those who are interested in Indigenous tourism, the politics of labour, and the cultural values of Alaskan Natives.