Put down your phone and experience the land and heritage of Cape Dorset
According to a 2019 study by The Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), Indigenous tourism has been growing at
a rapid rate, outpacing Canadian tourism activity overall.
Much of that interest includes the art of native peoples.
Keith Henry, president and chief executive officer of ITAC, points to what he calls a “perfect storm” of factors that are propelling growth.
The direct economic benefits attributed to the Indigenous tourism sector in Canada rose 23.2 per cent between 2014 and 2017, from $1.4-billion to $1.7-billion, compared with a 12 per cent increase in overall tourism activity in Canada.
“Demand for authentic Indigenous tourism has never been higher, both domestically and internationally,” he says. He also says one in three international visitors coming into Canada want to have an Indigenous cultural experience, according to another study ITAC recently completed with Destination Canada.
“We have never seen those kinds of numbers,” he says. “This has the potential to really change the tourism landscape in this country.”
In an age of rapid technological advancements, with people spending more time in front of screens, people are increasingly looking for authentic cultural experiences and paces that do not fall within mainstream tourism, Henry says. That in part is driving interest in Indigenous tourism. But there is also increasing awareness among Canadians about the challenges being faced by the country’s Indigenous people, the past injustices and the need for action to speed up reconciliation.
Nowhere is this on display more than the South Baffin Explorer trip organized by One Ocean Expeditions and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Travellers take a 10-night trip (July 30 to Aug. 9) to Cape Dorset, in the South Baffin Islands, known as the Capital of Inuit Art.
This summer, Inuit art curator Dr. Nancy Campbell will lead the group to explore one of Canada’s most unique art destinations. Campbell has been an independent curator and writer on contemporary and Inuit art since 1993.
One Ocean has created a new route in partnership with McMichael, focusing on the artists of Cape Dorset, because of the gallery’s resources and work of Inuit art they hold. McMichael is the repository of an archive of more than 100,000 historical pieces of Cape Dorset artists. There will be a two-day stopover in the hamlet to meet artists and visit the cultural centre there.
There are only a few spots left for this summer’s trip, perhaps another indication of the popularity of Inuit art. A trip that features a specialist such as Dr. Campbell as well as the unique opportunity to speak with local artists and explore the connections between the land and the art is resonating with people.
More recent generations of Inuit artists are more open to showing a window to their lives in the North, in a way that previous generations might not have been. People are getting better insights into the difficulties but also the unique beauty of life there.
Cape Dorset is home to a thriving art scene and is the largest producer of Inuit carvings in the world. Art is how people there share sacred teachings, legends and stories, offering a window into Indigenous heritage and culture.
Travellers will visit galleries and workshops, interact with local artists, learn about Arctic art and its meaning, as well as the culture, history and wildlife of the region.
The South Baffin Explorer ship departs from Iqaluit in July. One Ocean provides all the gear travellers will need – such as a waterproof and windproof jacket and bib pants, binoculars, backpack and trekking poles.
Participants will also experience the incredible ecosystem and wildlife of such places as Coral Harbour, Monumental Island and Walrus Island.
“We are seeing more of an interest in these Indigenous cultural experiences that are more off the beaten track,” Henry says.
“People want to get away from technology more. To spend 10 nights in Northern Canada, people want to explore something different. Local Inuit culture is being shared, which we think is fantastic.”
Being in the environment where artists live and work is part of the appeal of such a trip.
“We are very cultural and wildlife oriented with these trips. It’s an intimate connection to an area of Canada most people don’t get to see – a rich, wonderful and warm culture,” says Jocelyn Pointkoski from One Ocean.
“People really want to interact with the artists and see where their influences come from. Being surrounded by the Arctic elements helps people better understand the art and the artists.
“The disconnect in people’s lives, and the connections they make not only with the communities they visit, but also their fellow passengers, the staff, is what guests talk about most often. You put your cellphone down and experience the elements you are in. There is no choice but to connect to where you are. People really want to have experiences, not just read about it.”
Robert and Signe McMichael began their Inuit art collection in the 1950s, which has now grown to more than 1,000 works. In the 1970s, they began collecting more Indigenous art, and both collections are now central to McMichael gallery’s permanent collection.
A unique website will enable lovers of Inuit art to virtually explore some of the thousands of works from Kinngait (Cape Dorset) that have been preserved in an archive at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
You will be able to browse the collection, save a selection of favourite artwork and even create your own exhibition online.
More details will be available in the fall at mcmichael.com.
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