Each year, September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, an annual commemoration honouring the children who died while attending residential schools and the survivors, families and communities still affected by the legacy of the residential school system.
The creation of this statutory holiday was made last year through legislative amendments made by Parliament.
Ceremonies will be held across Canada today to reflect on the country's history and treatment of Indigenous people.
All federal government buildings in Canada — including the Peace Tower in Ottawa — will also lower their flags to half-mast from sunrise to sunset.
Both the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day take place on Sept. 30.
Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours children who survived residential schools and remembers those who did not.
It relates to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, on her first day of school, where she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was taken from her.
It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.
“Visit a local Indigenous experience”
PAX joins the travel industry in acknowledging the ways we can all take actionable steps towards reconciliation, become better allies and support Indigenous Peoples year-round – especially through tourism.
A Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), told PAX last year: “Visit a local Indigenous experience if you haven’t already done so.”
Prior to March 2020, Indigenous tourism was outpacing all other tourism sectors in Canada for growth, bringing an estimated $1.9 billion in revenue to Canada’s gross domestic product, ITAC reports.
At that time, there were an estimated 40,000 Indigenous tourism employees and 1,800 Indigenous-led businesses.
Indigenous tourism, however, was disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Losing international visitors, in particular, was a huge blow to Canada’s Indigenous tourism industry.
But that is set to change. Ottawa’s decision to end vaccine mandates at the Canadian border on Oct. 1, in addition to lifting other restrictions, such as mandatory ArriveCAN, bodes well for a recovery.
“This is another important step to support Indigenous tourism,” Henry wrote on his Twitter account on Sept. 26, the day the policy changes were announced. “These travel requirements were stalling effective recovery, I saw this first hand working in the tourism industry.”
Earlier this year, the Canadian government made a commitment of $24.8M over two years to Indigenous Tourism in Budget 2022.
This funding will support the creation of a new Indigenous Tourism Fund and provide $4.8M to support ITAC’s operations as it helps rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry.
Experience the "Original Original"
ITAC helps Indigenous communities fulfill their vision for tourism.
Indigenous tourism can take different shapes and forms. It could be an Indigenous person sharing their food or culture, or a business leading guided experiences or tours.
It could be an experience that involves supporting an Indigenous-owned businesses.
There are steps the travel industry can take to support Indigenous Peoples year-round.
Firstly, familiarize yourself with the 94 Calls to Action in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.
These actions call on all levels of government to work together to repair the harm caused by residential schools and begin the process of reconciliation. (Click here to read the report).
Secondly, take time to learn about the history of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. Learn how to properly acknowledge the land we live on. Names and pronunciations matter.
Finally, support Indigenous-owned business, artists and experiences wherever possible.
The “Original Original” brand mark identifies Indigenous tourism experiences in Canada.
The branded seal shows which businesses have been vetted by ITAC, fulfilling four criteria: that the business is at least 51 per cent Indigenous owned, that it embraces the values of Indigenous tourism, that it offers a market or export-ready experience, and that it is an ITAC member.
“The Original Original” is also the name of a campaign ITAC launched in June of 2021 to educate travellers and modernize their perception of authentic Indigenous experiences.
Henry has 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 last year. “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.
A range of packaged tourism experiences in Canada, assembled by ITAC, can be found on indigenoustourism.ca, which is a great resource for travel advisors looking to expand their knowledge of Indigenous tourism, identify key contacts and support the sector.
Click here to view some of the amazing experiences that are out there.