Today (Sept. 30) marks the first 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.
Public commemoration of this tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process, reads a statement issued by the Government of Canada.
The creation of this statutory holiday was made earlier this year through legislative amendments made by Parliament.
During a ceremony that was held on Parliament Hill on Sept. 30, Wakerakatste Louise McDonald Herne, a condoled Bear Clan Mother for the Mohawk Nation Council, called on Canadians to "know the history of this country and the corruption it was built upon."
"You need to correct the wrongs and you have to own your own truth," she said, as reported by CBC News.
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.
Become a better ally through travel
What can members of the travel industry, and their clients, do to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and become better allies?
“Visit a local Indigenous experience if they haven’t already done so,” said Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) told PAX.
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.
Then, there were an estimated 40,000 Indigenous tourism employees and 1,800 Indigenous-led businesses.
The Indigenous tourism industry, however, was disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, there is an estimated 15,000 employees and 1,000 businesses left, ITAC says.
“We’ve been hit the hardest of the hard in tourism,” Henry said. “Our supply side is dwindling. They’re hibernating, which is the best way to describe it.”
Losing international visitors, “the bread and butter” of Canada’s Indigenous tourism sector, Keith said, came as a huge blow to businesses.
“[The pandemic] has had a devastating impact and we need partners, more than ever, to support our sector,” Henry said.
Discover “The Original Original"
In June, ITAC launched a new domestic marketing campaign to promote and rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry.
The campaign, called “The Original Original,” arrived in time for Indigenous People’s Day and aims to educate travellers and modernize their perception of authentic Indigenous experiences.
“The Original Original campaign is a reflection of our communities as they really are: diverse, authentic, empowered and current,” said Henry at the time when the campaign launched. “Our greater mandate at ITAC is to leverage tourism to help support the revitalization and broader understanding of Indigenous culture in a way that contributes positively to Indigenous communities.”
“The Original Original mark supports this mandate by helping travellers better distinguish and support authentic businesses, and lift our voices.”
Henry identifies some misconceptions people have about Indigenous tourism.
“Many see it as an elder singing a prayer, some song and dance and maybe some drumming,” Henry said. “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.”
Elevating Indigenous tourism
ITAC helps Indigenous communities fulfill their vision for tourism.
Indigenous tourism can take different shapes. 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.
“Communities, whether it be First Nations, Inuit or Métis, by in large, want to share their culture,” Henry said.
A range of packaged 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 eye-opening experiences that are out there).
ITAC will also be hosting its National Indigenous Tourism conference, “Building Back Better,” from Feb. 8-10, 2022, in Calgary. (Click here for details).
“The goal is to continue rebuilding Indigenous tourism,” Henry said. “Non-Indigenous people can attend to learn, support and understand what we’re trying to do to rebuild.”
Take the pledge, take action
Supporting Indigenous communities on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and beyond, comes down to taking a “personal pledge” to make things better, Henry said.
“I would ask everyone, regardless of what institution or organization, to look at what commitments you have made to support Indigenous reconciliation,” he said. “It’s not just about learning, it’s about economic reconciliation, [too]. What tangible action are you taking?”
Henry also reminds the travel industry that ITAC has all the right resources to get started.
“ITAC can provide guidance, advice and help you achieve what you want to do,” he said. “We’re here to help.”
“Every step towards working together is the right step towards reconciliation.”
Travel industry professionals are encouraged to visit www.destinationIndigenous.ca for more information.