Canada’s indigenous people are moving into tourism with a new confidence and significant government backing and the result is a huge array of unique tourism products proudly curated by Canada's First Nation community.

“International markets, including the UK trade, need to give Canada's aboriginal product portfolio a try and help ensure First Nation insights become a must-do part of any authentic Canadian holiday experience”

JULIE BAXTER, TRAVEL WRITER

Aboriginal experiences by province

  1. Spirit Bear Lodge, Klemtu: Offers guided, interpretive wildlife tours in B.C's Great Bear Rainforest

  2. Horseback Adventures Ltd: Ride traditional trails through the Alberta Rockies

  3. Wanuskewin Heritage Park: This Saskatchewan park near Saskatoon tells the stories of the Northern Plains people and has its own buffalo jump

  4. Manito Ahbee Festival: Join in Winnipeg’s colourful native pow wow in Manitoba's capital

  5. Great Spirit Circle Trail: Canoe traditional routes while learning bush craft on beautiful Manitoulin Island in the Sagamok region of Northeastern Ontario

  6. Tourism Wendake: Visit a Huron village set beside a chic luxury hotel near Quebec City

  7. Abadak Wilderness Adventures: Fish for salmon and explore with a local from a remote lodge nestled in the Long Range Mountains above the Victoria Lake Qatershed, Newfoundland.

  8. Metepenagiag Redbank Lodge: Try aboriginal fusion cuisine and see First Nation art at this lodge high above the confluence of the Little Southwest Miramichi and the Northwest Miramichi rivers in New Brunswick

  9. Destination Membertou: Join a Mi’kmaw guide on a personal history tour at Membertou Heritage Park, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

  10. Micmac Productions: Explore local ceramics and traditional designs on Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island

  11. Shakat Tun Adventures: Hands-on experiences of aboriginal beading, trapping, drum making, and camp cooking at Kluane Lake, Yukon

  12. Tundra North Tours: Follow in the footsteps of reindeer herds, see the northern lights and stay the night in an igloo near Inuvik, Northwest Territories

  13. Arctic Bay Adventures: Learn the nomadic ways of the Inuit at a fly-in hamlet near orca waters and polar bear habitats in Nunavut

First Nation chiefs step up

Eight First Nation chiefs take to the stage. A powerful drum beats and the distinctive chants of an indigenous song fills the room. It’s a dramatic spectacle for sure, but this is so much more. This is surely the coming of age of aboriginal tourism in Canada.

As an array of tourism big guns stand back, the imposing chiefs of the Blood, Siksika, Piikani, Wesley, Chiniki, Bears Paw and Tsuut’ina First Nations speak. Each one eloquent in his wishes for a successfully Rendez-vous 2017 (RVC 17); each with his own invitation to the travel trade to connect with his culture; each with a clear message that they and their people are engaged and ready to do business.

They are earnest, humorous and thought-provoking and a symbolic visual statement that shows something significant has shifted in the way Canada’s tourism industry does business.

Five years ago inclusive, respectful engagement with First Nation culture was on the ‘to do’ list but was undeniably challenging. Some provinces, notably British Columbia, had begun to see the potential but in quiet conversations most in tourism agreed that there were few aboriginal tourism experiences that were ‘export ready’.

Aboriginals come of age

And then something changed. The Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada was formed and slowly but surely the indigenous people of Canada have found their tourism voice. Led by Keith Henry, from the First Nation community, they have organised themselves more coherently, established codes of practice and reliability standards, recognised their strengths and weaknesses – in short, they made a plan.

It’s a highly-professional plan too and one that has found favour with Destination Canada and the Canadian government – to the combined tune of $CAN13 million, for investment in the marketing, partnerships, training and leadership.

RVC 2017 saw professional aboriginal tour operators attend in their greatest numbers yet - from those operating interpretative tours to others running hotels and casinos. The breadth of their offering is growing fast and their commitment to a serious role within Canada’s ambitious tourism growth plans can no longer be doubted.

All credit to the current leaders in Destination Canada who have helped bring those chiefs to the Rendez-vous stage. It has taken significant time and commitment to build the necessary confidence and trust between the established tourism hierarchy and the indigenous communities.

A commitment which has seen Destination Canada’s own CEO, David Goldstein, himself learning the protocols of aboriginal culture, sitting with them in their lands, hearing their stories first hand and coming to fully understand their anxieties – and their potential – from the grassroots up.

Now it just remains for international markets, including the UK trade, to give that aboriginal product portfolio a try and help ensure aboriginal insights become a must-do part of any authentic Canadian holiday experience.

What’s new

The Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada has produced a new guide to over 50 aboriginal tourism businesses developed and ready to receive international visitors. Explore it at aboriginalcanada.ca/en