Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

For hundreds of years, the ancestors of Bear Mustus erected a tipi village on land that holds deep meaning for the Nakota people. It is his vision to restore the village – in partnership with Catalyste+ and Indigenous Tourism Alberta – to share Indigenous history and culture.GAVIN JOHN

Mentorship program helps build cultural reclamation through tourism

If the deep snow and fallen trees make the going tough for Bear Mustus, he gives no indication. He pauses knee-deep in the fluffy snow and points skywards to a break in the trees. The newer growth of trees creates a line through the almost impenetrable bulwark of old growth black spruce. Despite the harsh weather, thick forest and trailless features, Mustus finds the old wagon trail.

“This is our land,” Mustus says with pride as he motions to the ancient trail. “We’ve been here for many generations, and the village will celebrate that.”

The land is part of a proposal between Mustus and Alberta Parks to create a traditional tipi village that would restore the site to use by the Nakota people. In a partnership with Indigenous Tourism Alberta and Catalyste+, this vision is becoming a reality through a unique mentorship program targeting Indigenous tourism companies across Alberta, one of 16 Indigenous tourism companies that are benefiting from the Catalyste+ mentorship program.

Open this photo in gallery:


Catalyste+ is an economic development organization with projects across Canada and in over 30 countries around the world. The mentorship program is now in its second year of operation in partnership with Indigenous Tourism Alberta. The program provides Indigenous tourism companies the opportunity to work with mentors who are former and current leaders in the tourism industry.

"Indigenous tourism is an approachable way of learning about truth and reconciliation. When you take part in it, you’re opening that door to the tipi.

Mackenzie Brown
Director of Industry Development for Indigenous Tourism Alberta

Mustus grew up on the land just outside of Whitecourt, Alberta, and inherited a deep understanding of the traditional uses of the land. He currently works as a historical consultant for many industries working in the region. His intimate knowledge as a “bushman,” hunting and trapping throughout his life on traditional land, means he is well versed in the stories the land holds.

One story is most meaningful to him. For hundreds of years, his ancestors erected a tipi village on the banks of the McLeod Lake, or “Good Fish Lake” by the Indigenous people who called it home. The lake, surrounded by Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park 20 kilometres from the Alexis Whitecourt Nation, holds deep meaning for the Nakota people.

The village became an important stop on the route that was connected by an old wagon trail that was part of the pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne over 100 kilometres away. Mustus hopes to restore the village as it would have been in the years before the provincial park was established.

“Old is new,” Mustus says with a laugh as he describes the appeal of such a project. The village would not just be a tourist attraction, but a way for cultural reclamation and reconciliation.

“They’re losing connection to their culture, their language and their history,” he says about the Indigenous youth in his community.

Open this photo in gallery:


Last year, Mustus applied for the Catalyste+ mentorship and already sees substantial value in participating. His Catalyste+ mentor, Peter Homulos, helped with strategic planning, project implementation and permit applications, areas where Mustus admits he needed a lot of guidance. “Working with Peter has been a dream,” he says. “He got me to where I am now; I had the inspiration and motivation to push forward.”

According to Mustus, Homulos, who is not Indigenous, was open to understanding Indigenous ways of thinking – and incorporated those into their work together. This collaboration was reconciliation in action for Mustus and, in his mind, bodes well for the future of Indigenous tourism.

Open this photo in gallery:


“The mentorship has been so successful,” says Mackenzie Brown, director of Industry Development for Indigenous Tourism Alberta. “We’re now up to 16 businesses from 12 last year, and it is now a full six-month mentorship.”

Brown, whose Cree name is Kamâmak, sees the importance of mentorship with Indigenous companies and building meaningful relationships. “Indigenous tourism is an approachable way of learning about truth and reconciliation,” she says. “When you take part in it, you’re opening that door to the tipi.”

Like Mustus, Brown regards the program – and Indigenous tourism as a whole – as a way to bridge the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the province.

“When we honour both sides, that’s when we see change: change that truly impacts the next generation,” she adds.

Once completed, the tipi village is just the start of Mustus’s vision to reclaim land, culture and community in a way that shares Indigenous history with everyone.

Open this photo in gallery:


Mustus motions around him to the small clearing among the trees and traces a wide circle that would encompass the radius of a tipi. He envisions a village that could be replicated across the province on many of the other nearby First Nation lands – and on traditional territory with the goal of cultural preservation.

“This is not just a tipi village,” Mustus says, “this is conservation of our culture, language and history.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Catalyste+. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe