Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2018 (877 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Since the 1970s, the Manitoba chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada has been travelling to the Gooseneck cliffs in northwestern Ontario, where members climb the rockface, camp and hold an annual "clean up the mountain" event.
For years, club members spoke about encountering tobacco bundles, ceremonial objects and seeing Ojibwa rock paintings near their climbs — but were uncertain of the significance. They also worried increasing tourism was doing damage to the space.
Inviting an elder from local Wabaseemoong Independent Nations to share the stories of the site, the club learned about Anishinaabe history, how to honour ongoing ceremonial work and why certain areas are sacred.
Committing to becoming full partners in caring for the cliffs, the club installed signs to inform visitors how to act respectfully in the Treaty 3 territory. The club also committed to ongoing education from the Wabaseemoong. Other sections of the Alpine Club of Canada heard of the Manitoba chapter’s work. Next year, the organization is planning a national training and planning session with elders and traditional knowledge keepers on working ethically in First Nations territories.
This is what responsible tourism looks like.
Tourism has a nasty history. On one end, it looks like theft and exploitation — voyeurs entering a community, taking everything they see, and leaving forever. At the worst of this is the thousands of stolen Indigenous sacred objects and human remains sitting in the British Museum in London, forever held from the nations they belong to.
To be frank, I thought this was what tourism was: exploitation.
My sister, Dené Sinclair, the marketing director for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) — who just completed her master’s degree in Indigenous tourism — has shown me otherwise.
Legitimate, Indigenous-centred tourism can improve the socio-economic condition of Indigenous communities and show the breadth of their intellectual and cultural contributions to the world.
For years, tourism in Indigenous communities meant hunting and fishing lodges that paid native guides to help find the best game to kill, with proceeds eventually ending up on sportsmen’s walls. Not anymore.
"Hunting and fishing trips have always had a specific audience," Keith Henry, president of ITAC, says. "However, travellers today are looking for new experiences which connect visitors to a place."
According to research ITAC conducted with Destination Canada, one in every three international visitors (37 per cent) is interested in interacting with Indigenous communities, with France (63 per cent) and Germany (47 per cent) leading the way. Countries that show a growing interest include China (35 per cent) and the United States (33 per cent).
Approximately 20 million tourists visit Canada every year. This means a lot of eyes, a lot of dollars and a lot of opportunity. Indigenous Peoples can’t be left behind or exploited during this growth.
"Some museums and organizations give an impression to visitors with storyboards and artifacts that Indigenous cultures are a thing of the past," Henry says, "when these communities are still thriving today."
ITAC recommends, if willing and consenting Indigenous communities want to take part in tourism, they create culturally centred attractions that embody experiences designed by local knowledge keepers and leaders.
Indigenous communities have much to offer and teach the world. Communities have long-held intellectual protocols for sharing information about their culture, how to interact meaningfully with land and water and non-humans, and how to apply knowledge found in the universe in a reciprocal and meaningful way.
All of these, delivered with respect and responsibility, give visitors a fuller — and more complete — view of Canada.
ITAC reports an increase in Indigenous tourism operators offering options such as food tours, "on the land" excursions (kayaking, hiking, traditional history/storytelling tours) and "immersive experiences" — such as Wapusk Adventures in Churchill, which offers dogsledding and overnight trips throughout northern Manitoba.
Other Manitoba tours recommended by ITAC include learning about Indigenous water use in the Poplar River, teachings and ceremonies in Sagkeeng First Nation, and engaging with artists and historians in Winnipeg.
At the seventh annual International Indigenous Tourism Conference in Saskatoon, ITAC and Destination Canada reported such tourism contributed $1.8 billion to the gross domestic product of Canada in 2017 — a $412-million increase from 2015.
Meanwhile, Indigenous tourism businesses employ increasing numbers of people, expanding to 1,878 companies employing 41,153 in 2017 (up from 1,579 businesses employing 33,112 in 2015).
"The growth we are seeing within the Indigenous tourism industry in Canada is quite profound," Henry says. "The rapid rate in which numbers are rising, across the board, is really exciting to see and for Canada’s tourism industry overall."
ITAC has released its 2018-19 Guide to Indigenous Tourism in Canada (available for free online).
"Our ancestors have been welcoming visitors to our traditional territories for millennia with ceremony, song, dance, gifts and, of course, food," the guide states. "That hasn’t changed as new generations share their cultures through the many experiences available to visitors."
Tourism doesn’t have to be about theft and exploitation — it can be about building a future as partners, trading gifts and making connections. Building a family.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.