The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Art & Tourism sector is Ed DesRosier, Founder of Sun Tours.
In 2017, more than 12.5 million visitors to Montana spent nearly $3.4 billion. That’s music to Ed DesRosier’s ears. The Blackfeet Nation Tribal member has owned Sun Tours since 1992, after a rough start getting the sightseeing business off the ground.
“We had to fight the National Park Service to be recognized as a legitimate concession company. My Tribe represented us, and we appealed all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.” In the end, it never had to go that far.
DesRosier started Sun Tours with just one Ford van and now runs a thriving, 11-vehicle bus-tour business through Glacier National Park — from the point of view of the Blackfeet Nation.
“All our guides are Tribal members who give a perspective you won’t find anywhere else,” he says with pride. “This is our indigenous homeland. We grew up hearing the stories and history of the sacred places, and we feel it is important for travelers to learn about it, authentically, from us.”
According to the 65-year-old business owner, Montana tourism has always recognized Tribal culture, lore and history. “That romantic image has always been out there. But we also need an image of a contemporary Indian driving a bus full of people on a tour.”
Highlights of DesRosier’s interpretive bus tours include the scenic St. Mary Valley, the eastern gateway to Glacier National Park; the Two Medicine region; Going-to-the-Sun Road; buffalo herds: and the legendary Old North Trail. Tourists can choose between full- or half-day tours, ranging from $55 to $115 for adult tickets. Children five years old and under are free. Tours are seasonal and run from May 15 to October 15. Sun Tours is about to start its 27th operating season.
“We are really fortunate to have this landscape that the Creator blessed us with,” says DesRosier. “To share Glacier National Park with new eyes, people who are visitors, gives us an even deeper appreciation for the place we call home.”
Like every smart entrepreneur, DesRosier is expanding his business into new markets, adding custom, high-end private tours for corporations, families, executives and celebrities. “It’s a new audience that has really grown,” he says. Notable clients have included Bonnie Raitt and the Indigo Girls. “Mark Zuckerberg came last year, but he rode on my competitor’s red bus,” laughs DesRosier.
DesRosier, recently named the 2018 Montana Tourism Ambassador by the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation, believes the future looks bright for Tribal tourism. “Our Tribe has recognized the economic force that is Native tourism. It will do nothing but grow. And people are starting to pay attention.”
Now living in St Mary, Montana, DesRosier has lived his entire life on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He graduated from High School in Browning, Montana in 1971, and attended college at Flathead Valley Community College in 1972 and 1973.
Summers of his youth were spent working for the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning. The park and reservation land have been a constant study in summer and winter. Most of his youth and adult years included enjoying the mountains and valleys of Glacier National Park, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing hundreds of miles of trails, and climbing many of its highest peaks.
Sun Tours fulfills DesRosier’s mission “to educate and inspire all to a higher respect, appreciation and understanding of our Blackfeet world.”
In 2005, DesRosier was appointed to serve on the Montana Governor’s Tourism Advisory Council and, again, for a second term, he served as Chairman until 2013. As a Blackfeet Tribal Board Member, DesRosier has served on the Blackfeet Tribe’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. “I belong to tourism organizations locally, the East Glacier and Blackfeet Country, Chamber of Commerce, and on the national level, the American Indian and Alaskan Native Tourism Association,” DesRosier says.
Throughout his professional career and personal work, he has traveled extensively throughout Montana and the northwest United States, networking with many Tribes and organizations, and sharing his tourism business experience and passion.