Ben Sherman speaks softly and slowly, picking his words intentionally. “People enjoy telling their own story,” he says. Ben grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation with seven siblings in a house without the common amenities like electricity, sewage, or running water that most Americans happily take for granted.
Pine Ridge, inhabited by the Lakota people, is currently ranked the 3rd poorest county by capita in the nation. Ben’s mother, Alice, one of the first Lakota schoolteachers on the reservation, always encouraged her children to value education and work towards college as a concrete goal, an ambition that poverty and limited formal education prevented many other young people on the reservation from pursuing. Speaking of his mother’s passion for art, Ben said, “We have very little of her art left, but maybe her art was in raising children”. Ben continues her legacy through his work as the Education Specialist for the Native People’s Fund, bringing Native American art to attention by teaching artists how to market their work and profit from telling their stories.
Ben helped found the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance in 2012 to stimulate Native economies through sustainable, authentic cultural tourism. Ben works so that tribal tourism is not exploitive, but instead respectful and educational. Ben will travel to Chile in a few weeks to work with indigenous peoples to create an ecotourism program. As Ben sits under a hazy sunset in his reservation hometown of Kyle he says, “I will probably never live here again, but it’s always home.”
By: Sophie Poukish