Tourist settler colonialism: Pierre Walter, ‘Settler colonialism and the violent geographies of tourism in the California redwoods’, Tourism Geographies, 2021


Abstract: Hidden from view, underneath the tourism landscape of the California redwoods, is a genocidal settler colonial history of warfare, massacres, and forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands. This history has been ignored in the touristic narrative of people and place presented by a redwoods attraction in northern California, which are rife with unacknowledged histories and geographies of violence. Framed by scholarship on violent geographies in tourism development, this study shows how redwoods tourism has erased Indigenous people and history from the landscape, and how new ‘power-laden’ tourism imaginaries have been created in their place. The new tourism narrative is found in the spatial layout, interpretive signage, exhibits, website, museum of Native American artifacts, and interpretive trails in a roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery. Secondary historical literature and maps of local Yurok ancestral territory and land ownership construct a counter-narrative of the site’s geography and history. Findings reveal a fanciful settler colonial history highlighting heroic male loggers on the ‘frontier’, and representations of ingenious Native Americans as historic people who produced beautiful tools, clothing and artwork but are now defeated, dead, and exotic. In fact, white settlers, backed by the U.S. Army and local militias, appropriated and logged Native American redwood lands, and in doing so massacred resident Yurok People and forced the survivors from their traditional territories. Conversely, the Yurok People have been reclaiming ancestral lands, reviving cultural practices, and resisting settler colonialism from the early 1800s to the present-day. Across the Americas, countless other settler colonial tourism sites like these sit upon violent geographies. Unearthing the hidden geography of this particular site shows how decolonizing research might be undertaken at other tourism sites situated on stolen Indigenous lands in the U.S. and beyond.

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