Canada has reopened: Here’s why visitors should book an indigenous experience


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As an indigenous guide, Joe Urie offers an experience different from typical tours of Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. As he takes his guests to the Maligna Valley and in search of bears, wolves and moose, he often confronts the established history of the Canadian Rockies. “Ever since tourism started bringing people to the mountains, the story has been very colonial,” Urie says. “The story of my valley was that David Thompson discovered a path through the mountains, which is not true at all. Indigenous people showed him the way. He accidentally drew a really great map. ”

Urie, a member of the Métis Nation, has run the Jasper Tour Company for more than a decade. Guiding visitors through his homeland along the Athabasca River is in his blood. “My ancestors led Europeans in search of fur. I’m taking you in search of similar things, but this time you’re painting nothing but pictures and you’re leaving [the animals] their skin. ”

The types of tours offered by Urie and other indigenous operators across Canada meet much of what travelers are looking for today: a deeper connection to the place and unheard of perspectives. When the tourism industry talks about regenerative travel, inclusion and justice, it seems like it is just taking a step towards what indigenous tourism has been doing for a long time. It seems a particularly cruel trick in measuring that, just when indigenous tourism in Canada was ready to fulfill its potential, it almost failed.

Indigenous tourism was the fastest growing sector of Canadian tourism, growing by 23.2 percent between 2014 and 2017, compared to an increase in total tourism in Canada by 14.5 percent, according to data Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). 2018. ITAC i Destination Canada, the national tourism marketing organization, found that 1 in 3 international visitors are interested in indigenous experiences. 2019 was also concluded with 1,900 indigenous tourism companies operating, employing 40,000 people, ITAC reported, but it is now estimated that only about 1,000 domestic tourism companies and 15,000 employees will remain.

“Covid-19 was pretty devastating for our industry,” says Keith Henry, CEO of ITAC. Although the organization, which has supported indigenous companies since 2015, has avoided the insolvency it feared, it says it is “still fighting for survival”.

From companies that have gone into “hibernation” in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, Henry says, “we just don’t know if they will ever be able to recover. That’s why we’re desperately trying to maintain the core of the business group, and we’re doing that with marketing and a number of initiatives. ”

With the support of Destination Canada, ITAC has launched a new label, “Original Original,” to help travelers identify Canada’s indigenous tourism experience and products. For the first time for Native American tourism in the United States, the label identifies companies that are certified by ITAC and meet criteria that include being at least 51 percent owned by natives and offering a market-ready experience.

In addition to raising awareness and providing confidence that there are standards that are being met, Henry says, “this is a very tactical campaign: it launches packages and direct sales.” Dedicated website, DestinationIndigenous.ca, simplifies the booking process, allowing users to search for experiences by location or interest, and then go to a particular company’s website to complete the booking. Examining the options gives a sense of the diversity of experiences on offer and can change perceptions of what an indigenous experience looks like, whether it’s bear watching and wine tasting in British Columbia or dog sledding and dining in Manitoba.

It took decades for indigenous tourism in Canada to reach a point where, says Henry, “we are world leaders in the development and operation of Indigenous experiences.” Misconceptions and concerns on all sides had to be resolved, primarily by breaking down stereotypes and raising awareness of the diversity of contemporary cultures in more than 700 communities of First Nations, Inuit and Metis in Canada.

“We think a lot of what consumers may or may not realize is that they’re looking for a really Hollywood stereotype,” Henry says. On the other hand, there has been hesitation among some indigenous communities to get involved in the tourism industry. “They do not want their culture to be exploited. Many of our people don’t want to be Disney. “

Many people who have embraced tourism see it as a force for good. Candace Campo is a member of Sechelt First Nation and is the owner and operator Talaysay Tours in Vancouver, BC, which has re-launched personal walking tours along with its virtual offering.

Talaysay’s tours talk about “how our people treat the country culturally and spiritually and how we use the country for food, medicine and technology”. Visitors “want to feel the place,” she says, “and because of indigenous tourism, we can share the region’s long history, the last 150 years [of Canadian Confederation], but thousands of years of history here. “

Campo says tourism brings value to her community as a platform to promote her stories, history and worldview. “And I believe, in a very small, modest way, that we are facilitating and creating part of that dialogue for reconciliation.”

Canada launched in 2008 Truth and Reconciliation Commission explore federally funded, often church, residential schools that have operated for about 120 years. More than 150,000 children from the first peoples, the Metish and Inuit, were removed from their families and communities and placed in schools, where they were forced to abandon their tradition, cultural practice and language. The Commission partly aimed to move Canada towards mutual respect and understanding, which seems even more urgent recent discoveries hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children near former schools.

In Alberta, as Urie slowly and cautiously reopens to visitors, he says he had phone calls asking for a “reconciliation tour”. He doesn’t count exactly what he does, “but I talked to it and people heard me say it” on social media. “People are very curious about indigenous ways at the moment, especially [since] the children returned to the light from residential schools. ”

This is related to the need to tell history correctly. Returning to worn-out stories about white explorers, like Thompson, Urie says more visitors are now saying, “Okay, that’s interesting. . . but what happened before that? ‘”

In Canada and the United States, he says, “these things start to be learned in schools, but there’s a big difference when you have to go sit at a table and tell you you have to learn something, so when you go and look for it yourself. “

Campo shares a similar opinion: “We are in a more friendly mood, a softer introduction to a very complex common history.”

“You still come to the mountains and call it a holiday. I don’t want to send you home in despair, ”says Urie. Correcting the narrative is an integral part of the experience, but “I want to connect it with the beauty of this place and hope for the future.”

Gardiner is a writer from Baltimore. Her website is karengardiner.com. Find her Twitter i Instagram: @karendesuyo.

Note

Potential travelers should consider local and national pandemic public health directives before planning any travel. Information on travel health notices can be found on the interactive map of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows recommendations for travel to destination and the CDC travel health notice website.

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