Chapter 12. Indigenous Tourism

12.2 Tourism, Colonialism, Indigenous Human Rights and Reconciliation

For centuries, Indigenous peoples managed their lands and resources with their own governments, laws, and traditions, however with the formation of the country of Canada, their way of life was changed forever. Among the many assimilation tools used against Indigenous people, the government forced a system of governance on First Nations so that they could no longer use their system of government. The resultant harms from the explicit and systemic strategies of cultural assimilation afflicted upon Indigenous peoples within Canada continue to be documented (Joseph, 2018) and are increasingly recognized in wider society (see Regan, 2011).

The current state of self-determination of Canada’s Indigenous peoples illuminates a growing momentum of cultural resurgences across the Canadian political landscape. In 2020, there are 25 self-government agreements across Canada involving 43 Indigenous communities, and approximately 50 self-government negotiation tables across the country (CIRNAC, 2020a).

Take a Closer Look: Map of Modern Treaties and Self-Government

Review the current Modern Treaties and Self-Government Agreements map [PDF], or to find out what Indigenous Traditional Territory you live, work or play on, go to the Native Land interactive map.

There are increasing examples of Indigenous self-governance, achieved in parallel or complementary processes that involved settling land claims. Self-government refers to the ability of Indigenous people to govern themselves within the framework of the Canadian Constitution (Government of British Columbia, 2020). According to the federal body mandated to modernize Government of Canada structures, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) self-government is:

Negotiated agreements put decision-making power into the hands of Indigenous governments who make their own choices about how to deliver programs and services to their communities. This can include making decisions about how to better protect their culture and language, educate their students, manage their own lands and develop new business partnerships that create jobs and other benefits for their citizens. (CIRNAC, 2020)

Different forms of governance and agreements have been negotiated in Canada. Looking to the Canadian north provides noteworthy examples of early ground-breaking modern day treaties.

In 1993 Nunavut negotiated a comprehensive land claim agreement, a modern treaty, with the Canadian Government. The agreement is unique because in this case it represents all the people residing in the territory (CIRNAC, 2020). In the western territory of Yukon, 11 of the 14 First Nations have negotiated a self-government and land claims agreement with the federal government. The journey began in 1973, when a delegation of Yukon First Nations Chiefs presented Together today for our Children Tomorrow: A Statement of Grievances and an Approach to Settlement by the Yukon Indian People (1973) to then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Twenty years later, in 1993, the historic Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) was signed, and provided the template to negotiate individual land claim agreements with each Yukon First Nation.

Take a Closer Look: Yukon First Nations Self-Government

Learn more about the journey taken by Yukon First Nations and about key milestones in their Mapping the Way website, which also features several informative videos.

Notwithstanding the weight of Canada’s colonial past and its violently negative impacts on Indigenous people, there is some evidence that Canada’s historical trajectory can be challenged and a better future can be imagined. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRP, 2007) was officially adopted by the Canada in May 2016, and the provincial government of British Columbia followed suit in November 2019 (Government of British Columbia, 2019).

Take a Closer Look: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In 2007, the United Nations passed a declaration to address human rights violations against Indigenous peoples. The document, sometimes known as UNDRIP, contains 46 articles, one of which is “Every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality” (United Nations, 2007, p. 5). For more information, read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [PDF].

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) confirmed the UNDRIP as its framework for reconciliation. The TRC was created to provide an opportunity for those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system to share their stories. The Indian Residential Schools system was set up as a way to manage objectives outlined in the Indian Act (Gray, 2011; Joseph, 2018; Regan, 2011). The commission’s work resulted in 94 actions, known as the ‘Calls to Action’, which aim to ‘redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation’ (NCTR, 2015). You can also watch Senator Murray Sinclair introduce some of the issues involved in Truth and Reconciliation in the following video.

Take a Closer Look: Resources that Support Reconciliation

In recent years, a variety of guides and toolkits have been developed that aim to support reconciliation and heal relationships between settlers, newcomers and Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Below are just a few examples of these emerging resources:

Colonial settlement through the use of tools such as the Indian Act have left a legacy of land displacement, cultural and economic deprivation, and negative emotional and physical health consequences, including tremendous and violent loss of life that Canada’s Indigenous peoples are still striving to overcome. That being said, Indigenous people are working hard to reclaim their traditions, and for many there is an increasing pride in a revitalized culture. Reconciliation, land claims, and increased self-determination support these transformations. Tourism presents an opportunity that, under the right circumstances, can facilitate Indigenous empowerment movements.

The history of tourism has seen considerable exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Land has been expropriated, economic activity suppressed by outside interests, and cultural expressions (such as arts and crafts) have been appropriated by outside groups. Appropriation refers to the act of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission. Specific to overlapping challenges of reconciling appropriation related to land title, and how we proceed in tourism in the BC and Canadian context, it is essential to be aware that:

Ninety-five percent of British Columbia, including Vancouver, is on unceded traditional First Nations territory. Unceded means that First Nations people never ceded or legally signed away their lands to the Crown or to Canada (Wilson, 2018).

Dozens of people hike over a reddish rock formation.
Figure 12.3 This “We Don’t Climb” sign expresses the traditional laws of Australian Aboriginal people and asks that tourists not climb Uluru (once known as Ayers Rock). In the background, dozens of people continue to climb.

In 2012, the Pacific Asia Travel Association organized a gathering of global Indigenous tourism professionals to establish guiding principles for the development of Indigenous tourism. That gathering created both the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) and the Larrakia Declaration. A global network, the WINTA it is made up of over 170 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations in 40 countries, such as tourism associations, businesses, service providers, and government groups.

Spotlight On: World Indigenous Tourism Alliance

World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) was formed in Australia in 2012 during the same gathering that created the Larrakia Declaration. The WINTA global network, with 6 founding Indigenous tourism associations, is made up of over 170 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations in 40 countries, such as tourism associations, businesses, service providers, and government groups. For more information, visit World Indigenous Tourism Alliance.

The Larrakia Declaration on the Development of Indigenous Tourism, named after the Larrakia Nation, the Australian Aboriginal host community for the meeting (PATA & WINTA, 2014). Key principles were adopted as resolutions at the gathering and form the Larrakia Declaration, which aims to guide all culturally respectful Indigenous tourism business development (World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, 2012, pp. 1–2):

  • Respect for customary law and lore, land and water, traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, cultural heritage that will underpin all tourism decisions.
  • Indigenous culture, the land and waters on which it is based, will be protected and promoted through well managed tourism practices and appropriate interpretation.
  • Indigenous peoples will determine the extent, nature and organisational arrangements for their participation in tourism and that governments and multilateral agencies will support the empowerment of Indigenous people.
  • Governments have a duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples before undertaking decisions on public policy and programs designed to foster the development of Indigenous tourism.
  • The tourism industry will respect Indigenous intellectual property rights, cultures and traditional practices, the need for sustainable and equitable business partnerships and the proper care of the environment and communities that support them.
  • Equitable partnerships between the tourism industry and Indigenous people will include the sharing of cultural awareness and skills development which support the well-being of communities and enable enhancement of individual livelihoods.

Using these guiding principles, it becomes clear that Indigenous tourism development can be considered successful only if the rights of Indigenous people are upheld.

Notwithstanding the possibilities that may occur when following the guidelines described above, tourism at the intersection of reconciliation is a new and complex undertaking. Higgins-Desbiolles (2012) explored tourism as a force for peace, and by extension, its ability to achieve reconciliation mandates. Among other things, she noted that tourism’s economic motivations challenge the social attributes related to meeting reconciliation mandates. Grimwood et al.’s (2019) explorations question tourism’s ability to contribute to reconciliation aspirations given the underlying entanglement tourism has with colonization. Any approach that considers tourism as force that can benefit Indigenous peoples must by necessity ask — sometimes uncomfortable — questions and “learn to tell new stories.”

This ability to understand one’s own position and contribution in relation to tourism as force for reconciliation, through decolonization, is as true for tourism researchers and educators, as it is for non-Indigenous tour operators and other sector workers. Decolonization can refer to making space for Indigenous perspectives (Grimwood et al., 2019). In an Indigenous tourism context, it also refers to ensuring we all play a part in supporting the production of tourism experiences that are controlled by, and that directly benefit, the Indigenous peoples whose lands and cultures are featured for the enjoyment of visitors.

The history of tourism at the intersection of Indigenous peoples is embedded in colonial power (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2012; Grimwood et al., 2019). Nonetheless, the allure and promise that tourism holds for positively moving forward is compelling. Moreover, there is an increasing appreciation for the way intercultural exchanges can help strengthen cultures at risk, if managed thoughtfully. Despite the risks due to cultural appropriation, there is also growing evidence — that under certain conditions, foremost Indigenous control and ownership – that tourism can promote community and economic development while helping to preserve and strengthen Indigenous culture (OECD, 2019). With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the features supporting Indigenous tourism in Canada.

Video Attributions



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2015, 2020, 2021 by Morgan Westcott and Wendy Anderson, Eds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book