Chapter 12. Indigenous Tourism
Examples like the Nk’Mip suite of businesses and partnerships through the Osoyoos Indian Band demonstrate that BC is on track to become one of the world’s leading destinations for Indigenous tourism experiences. Across Canada, Indigenous peoples and their partners are using Indigenous-developed standards to help preserve and strengthen cultures while building economic benefits for their communities. This is directly in line with the global trend toward linking tourism with the need to uphold Indigenous rights.
An aim of this chapter was to inspire respectful curiosity among students of tourism and offer a glimpse at the complexity and connectedness of Indigenous tourism in the historic and contemporary spheres of the public and private lives of non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples in Canada, with a primary focus on British Columbia. Frankly, one chapter can never fully reveal the diversity, resiliency, and cultural richness of Indigenous peoples, nor can it fully reveal the depth of harm wrought by past, and ever-present colonial systemic forces that remain entangled with the phenomenon of tourism.
The promise of Indigenous tourism can provide a basis for conversation — and action — among stakeholders with potentially competing aims and differing worldviews. It is important to recognize that these conversations can be emotionally charged, complex and personally unsettling. Nevertheless, the progress that has been made thus far by individuals, communities, businesses, agencies, organizations and governments in developing quality Indigenous tourism opportunities for visitors to British Columbia, Canada and around the world is encouraging. The cumulative results of these efforts demonstrate that properly supported, and most importantly Indigenous-led, Indigenous tourism development can be a powerful force for positive change. Indigenous tourism not only has the potential to contribute to a healthier, more respectful and more prosperous shared future for all, it is arguably one of the best positioned and most appropriate global force to do so.
In recent years, the momentum, growth, and evident growth-potential of Indigenous tourism within the tourism sector has had some of the most significant and genuine change and influence on policy, product, destination development within tourism in BC, Canada, and internationally. These changes — catalyzed through Indigenous tourism — are integral for augmenting and repositioning the role of tourism in general within larger provincial, national and international objectives and efforts for reconciliation and sustainable development. Whether a person or business is Indigenous or otherwise, becoming genuinely engaged in moving Indigenous tourism forward is at the front edge of helping tourism reach it’s positive societal and economic potential both domestically and internationally.
Up to this point, we’ve gained an understanding of multiple sectors of the industry as well as special considerations for professionals in BC. Chapter 13 explores careers and work experience in tourism and hospitality.
- American Indian: a term used to describe First people in the United States, still used today
- Appropriation: the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People: a 2007 statement that set forth the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world
- Eskimo: a term once used by non-Inuit people to describe Inuit people; no longer considered appropriate in Canada (however, still used in Alaska, US).
- Export-ready criteria: the highest level of market readiness, with sophisticated travel distribution trade channels, to attract out-of-town visitors and highly reliable service standards, particularly with groups
- First Nation: one of the three recognized groups of Canada’s Indigenous peoples (along with Inuit and Métis)
- Indian (or Native Indian): a legal term in Canada, once used to describe Indigenous people but now considered inappropriate
- Indigenous cultural experiences: experiences that are offered in a manner that is appropriate, respectful, and true to the Indigenous culture being portrayed
- Indigenous cultural tourism: Indigenous tourism that incorporates Indigenous culture as a significant portion of the experience in a manner that is appropriate, respectful, and true
- Indigenous tourism: tourism businesses that are majority owned and operated by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit
- Indigenous peoples: groups specially protected in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations. Indigenous peoples are recognized in the Canadian Constitution Act as comprising three groups: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit
- Indigenous Tourism Association of BC (ITBC): the organization responsible for developing and marketing Indigenous tourism experiences in BC in a strategic way; marketing stakeholder members are over 51% owned and operated by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit
- Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC): a consortium of over 20 Indigenous tourism industry organizations and government representatives from across Canada
- Inuit: one of the three recognized groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada (along with First Nation and Métis), from the Arctic region of Canada
- Larrakia Declaration: a set of principles developed to guide appropriate indigenous tourism development
- Marae: a communal or sacred centre that serves a religious and social purpose in Polynesian societies
- Market-ready business: a business that goes beyond visitor readiness to demonstrate strengths in customer service, marketing, pricing and payments policies, response times and reservations systems, and so on
- Métis: one of the three recognized groups of Canada’s Indigenous peoples (along with First Nation and Inuit), meaning “to mix”
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP): a 2007 United Nations statement that set forth the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world
- Visitor-ready business: often a start-up or small operation that might qualify for a listing in a tourism directory but is not ready for more complex promotions (like cooperative marketing); may not have a predictable business cycle or offerings
Test your level of understanding for Key Terms in this chapter:
- Reread the mentioned earlier in this chapter. Find one statement that resonates with you either for personal reasons or as a future tourism professional. Why do you feel this principle is important?
- Why have the terms used to describe Indigenous people changed over time? Why is it important for tourism professionals to respect these terms?
- Who are the local Indigenous groups in your community? Are these First Nations, Métis, or Inuit? What are their languages called?
- Suggest three reasons why Indigenous tourism is different from product-based sub-sectors of the industry (e.g., golf tourism, cuisine tourism).
- With trends showing increased numbers of Indigenous Tourism businesses and employment, do you anticipate this having continued sustainable growth within tourism? Why? Why not?
- Are there Indigenous tourism businesses in your area? Try to find at least two (you can use the Indigenous Tourism BC website to locate them). How would you rate their market readiness? Give three reasons for your assessment.
- Complete online research to identify four international (non-US or Canada) Indigenous tourism experiences/attractions. Create a table to record the following information:
- Indigenous group represented
- Products or services provided
- Years of operation
- Indigenous hosts
- Authenticity of experience
- Market readiness (based on website/marketing materials)
- Notable features
- Compare and contrast the experiences you summarized in question 7. Which businesses do you think are the most successful, and why? Which might be struggling? Which would you like to visit? Why or why not?
In the Sa Pa region of Vietnam, ethnic minorities, including the Hmong and Red Dao, once depended solely on subsistence farming, timber harvesting, and opium cultivation for their income. The Hmong are indigenous to Southern China, however they were forced to migrate to areas in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in the mid-1800’s.
As tourism to the region has increased since the early 1990’s, so to has the economic opportunities as well as potential and real impacts. However, the benefits of tourism have not been equitably shared with everyone. Many of Sa Pa’s ethnic minorities either do not gain from the burgeoning sector, or are limited to selling handicraft-souvenirs to tourists on the streets.
Community-based tourism projects supported by Capilano University, North Island College, and Ha Noi Open University, and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Pacific Asia Travel Association Foundation, led to an evolution in sustainable practices as well as increased tourism revenues coming into the ethnic minority communities. Projects such as training and homestay development began in the villages of Ta Van and Ta Phin, and after some promising steps forward there, a project was replicated in Black Hmong village of Lao Chai.
Lao Chai used to be just a lunch stop for tourists trekking through the beautiful, mountainous region. Over a period of many years, training and capacity-building activities were undertaken by the local Black Hmong people with the support of project volunteers. The fascinating culture, the hospitality of the community, and new trekking routes changed the role of Lao Chai. With the development of homestays the village is now seen as a suitable place for an overnight stay.
A potential threat to the rights of the ethnic minorities and the village products has been the lack of inclusion and participation in decision making and tourism planning. This was evident during the development of Hoang Lien Son National Park. To protect this regional mountain range, authorities increased the borders of the park, encroaching on traditionally important natural resources for local villages. Additional challenges have arisen because the Vietnamese hold the majority of government positions and own the majority of tourism businesses in the region. Large scale tourism development projects, such as a gondola, have shifted economic priorities to attracting mass tourism markets. Access to education, language and racism are just some of the factors hegemonizing minority people like the Black Hmong.
Despite these challenges, and with the support of students and faculty from Capilano University and Ha Noi Open University, residents of Lao Chai have set up small shops and a restaurant that attract visitors. Homestays have been certified, allowing guests to enjoy an overnight experience in the village as part of a Black Hmong family. Partnerships have been fostered between private sector tour operators and the local communities. Local government and regional tourism authorities have been supportive of tourism development in the villages. As entrepreneurial activities by the local ethnic minorities have proved successful, other individuals and communities have worked to train and make investments in their own tourism ventures.
- What were some of the challenges to establishing tourism in the Lao Chai community?
- Review the Larrakia Declaration mentioned earlier in this chapter. What, in your opinion, are the most important of these principles that need to be understood in order for a project like this to succeed?
- What stakeholders do you think are critical to bring to the table to ensure equitable tourism development?
- Whose responsibility is the ongoing success and sustainability of tourism in Lao Chai village? How might success be measured?
- What lessons from the Sa Pa Case Study could be applied to Indigenous tourism development in BC? List five strategies used or actions taken in Vietnam that could be applied here.
Western Canada in the 1880s was facing a time of rapid change as the buffalo disappeared and the established way of life was rocked to its core. Tensions rose between European settlers and the Métis, whose rights had been eroded. In 1885, the North-West Resistance (formerly known as the North-West Rebellion) concluded with the hanging of resistance leader Louis Riel and eight other Indigenous leaders (Trails of 1885, 2015).
In the years since, residents of Saskatchewan have protected areas from major interpretive centres to remote meadows and hillsides where solitary historic markers recount stories from an almost mythical past.
In 2006, a small group of tourism developers and historic site managers gathered in Saskatoon to discuss how these locations and their stories could be brought together and enhanced to collectively attract more visitors to the region.
As detailed in Cultural and Heritage Tourism: A Handbook for Community Champions, their project included:
- Creating an inventory of 1885-related sites and stories
- Meeting with site stakeholders to gauge interest in the project
- Acknowledging that First Nations and Métis stories had been previously overlooked
- Creating the 1885 coalition (Elders, accommodations, tourism organizations, tourism attractions, museums, tour operators)
- Reaching beyond Saskatchewan (the site of the main historical event) to Alberta and Manitoba sites related to the story of the North-West Resistance
- Finding funding, striking a steering committee, and finding a project manager
- Navigating culturally sensitive issues including the language of program delivery
- Creating visuals and branding (including the Trails of 1885 brand itself)
The project relied on the participation of various stakeholder groups and the leadership of a local champion. As a result of their efforts, an elk-hide proclamation was signed by First Nations, the Métis Nation, and federal and provincial governments.
Numerous other major events were held throughout the year including the first-ever reenactment of the Battle of Poundmaker Cree Nation and other 1885 ceremonies in communities across the region. The added impact of Trails of 1885 resulted in the largest attendance of the annual Métis homecoming festival (Back to Batoche Days).
To support long-term tourism benefits to the region, these activities were reinforced by capital projects such as highway improvements (to the sites), highway and site signage, large maps at various 1885 sites, and multi-million dollar improvements at Batoche. After this multi-year project, a new non-profit corporation, Trails of 1885 Association, was created to extend the work into the future and promote the region as a long-term tourism draw.
According to one of the initiative’s leaders, “the project has certainly met one of its main goals—to increase visitation and visitor satisfaction, while developing First Nations and Métis cultural awareness locally, regionally, provincially, and nationally” (LinkBC, 2012, p. 66).
Visit the site at Trails of 1885 website and answer the following questions:
- List two attractions in each of the three provinces that span this project. What do they have in common?
- List five stakeholder groups who participated in the development of Trails of 1885. How might their interests differ? How might they align? Name three benefits of having these partners work together.
- What kind of tours are available to visitors wanting to learn more about this time in Canada’s history?
- Based on the website, where would you say the Trails of 1885 falls on the readiness scale (visitor ready, market ready, export ready)? Why would you classify it in this way?
- Go back to the Larrakia Declaration and create a checklist made up of the statements. In what ways did this project adhere to the principles set out in the declaration? Are there any ways the project could have done better?
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A set of principles developed to guide appropriate Indigenous tourism development.