The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), a national non-profit organization dedicated to growing and promoting the country's rich Indigenous tourism industry, has shared 22 Indigenous tourism experiences that travellers can discover in 2022.
“More than opportunities to experience great cuisine, explore the landscape, or learn about plants and animals, these 22 new and highlighted experiences give locals and visitors the opportunity to immerse in traditional cultural teachings with skilled Indigenous guides,” ITAC said in a release on Monday (Jan. 10).
Yesterday, ITAC also released its 2022-25 Strategic Plan: Building Back Better, which will focus on revitalizing the Indigenous tourism industry from the ongoing devastating impacts of COVID-19.
The Indigenous tourism industry is one of the strongest platforms for Canadians to rally support around Indigenous communities.
“As the country continues to mourn the children lost to residential schools and struggles to find a way to support reconciliation, Indigenous tourism plays a vital role in educating and sharing Indigenous culture,” ITAC said.
“Experiencing Indigenous tourism firsthand is a way to gain perspective, connect to our lands, traditions and way of life, understand Indigenous history in Canada and have an impact on Indigenous economic growth.”
Keith Henry, president and CEO of ITAC, says that funding support “demonstrates reconciliation in action by creating and expanding tourism economic development projects with Indigenous communities while supporting self-determination for Indigenous businesses.
“Prior to COVID-19, the growth of the Indigenous tourism sector in Canada provided a globally recognized competitive advantage for the country’s tourism industry,” Henry said in a statement. “It also brought economic growth and support for several Indigenous communities, some with limited economic opportunities, providing a successful Indigenous-led model.”
Growth + misconceptions
Before COVID-19, Indigenous tourism in Canada saw unprecedented growth as a result of Indigenous-led programs and solutions specifically tailored by ITAC to fit the unique needs of Indigenous tourism operators.
Indigenous tourism GDP increased from $1.4 billion in 2014 to nearly $1.9 billion in 2019, and export readiness increased from 65 to over 130 Indigenous-owned businesses within only three short years.
In less than 24 months, almost 70 per cent of Indigenous tourism GDP contribution was lost, and with that came hibernation of several Indigenous tourism businesses throughout Canada and substantial loss of jobs.
How can members of the travel industry become better allies with Canada’s Indigenous tourism sector?
“Visit a local Indigenous experience if they haven’t already done so,” Henry told PAX in an interview last September to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Henry identified misconceptions some people have about Indigenous tourism.
“Many see it as an elder singing a prayer, some song and dance and maybe some drumming,” Henry told PAX at the time. “These things are part of it, but Indigenous tourism is much deeper and richer than that.”
The sector in Canada has many contemporary young Indigenous artists, Henry said, as well as culinary experiences led by Indigenous Chefs who put modern spins on traditional dishes.
“Many Canadians look at us like we’re stuck in time, outside of a contemporary light” Henry said.
On the contrary: “There’s so much diversity for contemporary experiences across this country.”
22 experiences for 2022
Here’s ITAC’s list of 22 Indigenous tourism experiences to discover in 2022:
- Stay in the new 40-room boutique lodge on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and discover the rich history of the Métis People in Smoky Lake, Alberta. Visitors to Métis Crossing can also tour the new wildlife park called Visions, Hopes and Dreams at Métis Crossing, which features sacred species including white bison and white elk.
- Celebrate Indigenous culture at Madahoki Farms - the new home for a series of seasonal celebrations and the brick and mortar location of the Indigenous Marketplace. The farm recently provided refuge to four Ojibway spirit horses, the only existing breed of horse developed by Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
- Feast on the 'Best World Cuisine” at Kūkŭm Kitchen, soon to re-open in Toronto. Chef Joseph Shawana, the force behind the high-end Indigenous restaurant, will also be introducing a new Indigenous food festival in Toronto in the summer of 2022.
- Learn about the ancient petroglyphs recently uncovered by a roaming herd of bison at the newly expanded Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Walk the new trails and explore the landscape that’s been continuously inhabited by Plains People for 6,000 years.
- Spot whales and grizzly bears while learning about the Indigenous culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw People, who have resided in the islands off of Campbell River, British Columbia since time immemorial. Coastal Rainforest Safaris will expand its day-trip offerings with the opening of a cultural wilderness camp in 2022.
- Discover Nibiischii, meaning “Land of Water,” a breathtaking wildlife preserve of boreal forests, lakes and rivers near Mistissini, Québec. Managed by the Cree Nation, anglers and adventurers can stay in campsites, floating cabins or at a prospector's camp.
- Explore Songees culture in Victoria, British Columbia. Sample a salmon bannock burger from the food truck, purchase traditional or contemporary art or take a walking or canoe tour with a Songhees cultural guide.
- Listen to legends of the Cree People with Warrior Women, mother and daughter duo Matricia and Mackenzie Brown in Jasper, Alberta. Experiences include a plant medicine walk (virtual or in-person) and a fireside chat. Visit their new online store for handmade mittens, moccasins and artwork.
- Witness a traditional Pow Wow this summer; a celebration of community spirit through song, dance and cultural foods with the people of Three Fires Confederacy on Wikwiimekong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Celebrating 61 years since the revitalization of their culture, the community offers a variety of tourism experiences and recently launched an online gift shop.
- Promote healing at Aurora Village, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. While the NWT is closed to visitors, Aurora village has transformed into a wellness centre that uses Dene values and traditions to help guests heal from traumatic experiences including residential schools or the Sixties Scoop.
- Make a custom Mi'kmaq basket, experience a smudging ceremony or explore an authentically constructed wigwam, longhouse and sweatlodge at Elsipogtog Mi'kmaq Cultural Center, New Brunswick.
- Visit the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation in Bute Inlet with Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours. The 20-year-old company is opening the new Homalco Adventure Centre in Campbell River, launching two new tour vessels and introducing a new Whales, Wildlife and Culture tour.
- Located on 160 acres of pristine wilderness on the Kikino Metis Settlement in Northern Alberta, Hideaway Adventure Grounds has officially evolved from a campsite to a wilderness retreat with a variety of Indigenous education and awareness packages. New packages include things like plant knowledge, Indigenous life skills and leather creations. Hideaway Adventure Grounds offers Metis trapper tent camping as well as self-contained camping areas.
- Craft an igloo in Arctic Bay, Nunavut and discover the skills it takes to make a home out of snow and ice with Inuit People. Learn how to travel across the landscape by dogsled, catch fish and get to know your Inuit hosts at Arctic Bay Adventures.
- Indulge in sweet treats that showcase Indigenous ingredients from Canada and the world. Chef Tammy Maki of Raven Rising, Global Indigenous Chocolates and Pastry, uses flavours including Ontario bergamot, haskap berries, alder catkin, elderberry, wild rice, butternut, and hickory to create edible art.
- Ride across the traditional territories of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation with a stay at Big Bar Guest Ranch. Traditional Indigenous experiences are interwoven with the day-to-day ranch life of a wrangler at this ranch located in Clinton British Columbia.
- Step into traditionally crafted mukluks and moccasins by the artisans at Atikkus Hopeboots. The company from the Innu community of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam, won Company of the Year at the Indigenous Tourism Québec awards.
- Retrace the canoe routes of the Anishnaabek People with Wikwemikong Tourism in Point Grondine Park, Manitoulin Island. Multi-day tours include Indigenous meals, traditional storytelling and lodging in Killarney Mountain Lodge.
- Revel in the creative spirit of the Yukon First Nations People at the 2022 Adäka Cultural Festival, June 30 to July 7 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Whitehorse. Take part in hands-on workshops exploring skills including wood and antler carving, painting, beading, moose hair tufting, knife and birch bark basket making.
- Walk in nature while learning about the rich and vibrant culture of the Anishinaabek People at Cape Croker Park in Southern Ontario. New programming includes fire making, wilderness skills and guided hikes where visitors can learn about traditional plants or spot wildlife signs.
- Paddle the rivers near Kelowna and Kamloops, British Columbia with Moccasin Trails and explore the traditional territory of the Syilx and Shuswap People with a local Knowledge Keeper. Spend a couple of hours in a voyager-style canoe and discover how the people of the interior have thrived in this landscape and developed a strong connection to the water and land.
- Connect with nature while travelling by canoe along the waterways of the Saskatchewan River Delta, near Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. Aski Holistic Adventures provides a variety of opportunities to get out on the land and learn about the land with a Cree/Métis guide.
Go to www.destinationindigenous.ca to learn more.
There are unique challenges and considerations for Indigenous communities and businesses when deciding how and when to re-open to visitors, ITAC says.
"Be sure to check the status of each business for all health and safety measures including road closures before travelling using the ITAC map and enquiry directly."