June 6, 2021 Editor

How to ensure Indigenous tourism experiences support the right communities

Enrich your next trip with the histories, cultures, and languages of Turtle Island

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By Mike Alexander | 

photo above: Jusquan Bedard paints finishing touches on the Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole before it is raised in Haida Gwaii, B.C., in 2013. (Photo: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

WN: We’re gently called as settlers to embrace reconciliation by learning about our Aboriginal Neighbours . . .


Growing up in Winnipeg, I visited the Manitoba Museum several times a year. The museum memorialized the past by displaying the glassed-off artifacts of a long-lost people, obtained through the theft of cultural objects. The adjacent plaques offered a narrative created by curators with questionable intentions. When I think about it now, these exhibits were designed to hide the catastrophic experience of the colonialism that shaped Manitoba. I never felt a connection to my identity or sense of pride walking through that museum, despite the whole thing being built on my land, telling the unique story of my territory.

But exploring Indigenous cultures can transcend mannequins garbed in stolen property. Indigenous people are alive, and our cultures are thriving. As Canadians emerge from the pandemic and safe travel becomes possible again, they may wish to look closer to home. Across Canada, there are hundreds of Indigenous-led tourism experiences that are interactive and immersive, that place Indigenous culture in the present tense to promote a better understanding of Indigenous people.

The Wood Duck by the late Cree artist Isaac Bignell. (Courtesy photo)

With about 700 communities and more than 1.6 million people speaking over 50 languages, the Indigenous presence in Canada is impossible to sum up in one monolithic definition. Not all communities are powwow people. Stories about Raven differ between the Haida and the Cree. Some canoes are made of bark, and some are dug out. Some communities carve totem poles, and some carve soapstone. Depending on where you want to go, the richness and diversity of our traditions will be evident. I have vivid memories of becoming aware of my identity as a kid. Moments of awkward joy at my first powwow at the Winnipeg Friendship Centre, of seeing my first Isaac Bignell paintings, of sampling Indigenous cuisine at Neechi Commons in the city’s North End and picking medicines in Birds Hill park and other locations near Winnipeg.

Communities with an enterprising spirit are offering our history, culture and language to tourists, hoping to fill some large gaps in their understanding of Turtle Island. In 2019, the industry employed 40,000 workers and generated almost $2 billion in revenue, according to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). Those numbers fell steeply due to COVID-19, and there’s still uncertainty about what this summer might hold. Some tour operators are waiting for more clarity from officials before deciding to open. Some communities, especially remote ones with limited medical resources, may continue to restrict visitors. But others in the industry are hopeful that a better season lies ahead and have adapted their offerings to meet health guidelines.

ITAC is a good place to start your research of the living cultures of dynamic peoples. To be a voting member of the association, a business must be at least 51 percent Indigenous-owned and have all licences, permits and insurance in place. ITAC’s travel website, destinationindigenous.ca, lists a variety of experiences and tour packages across the country, including details about what’s currently open and closed.

Please click on: Indigenous Tourism Settler/International Learning

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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