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The ongoing work of reconciliation is still in its very early days – but Indigenous tourism operators have established themselves as a vital part of this cross-cultural healing proce

Indigenous tourism experiences are advancing reconciliation, one shared story at a time

Storytelling is at the heart of many Indigenous experiences, including the plant medicine walks and fireside chats hosted by Warrior Women in Alberta.

Indigenous Tourism Alberta

The ongoing work of reconciliation is still in its very early days – but Indigenous tourism operators have established themselves as a vital part of this cross-cultural healing process.

“People are really wanting to participate in the sharing of our story,” says Marilyn Jensen, vice-chair of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. “What’s attractive to visitors is this authenticity and the ability to connect with those who are wanting to share their stories.”

These tourism experiences are an important way for curious non-Indigenous visitors to encounter Indigenous cultures in a context that also allows Indigenous people to reclaim their narratives that have been suppressed for far too long.

“It’s important for us to follow our own protocols and our own ways of expressing our culture,” says Jensen, who is also the Tlingit/Targish founder of Dakhká Khwáan Dancers. “So much of what we do is the telling of our journey as a people and the story of our people.”

Reconciliation can also mean confronting hard truths. For example, some Indigenous operators facilitate experiences at the sites of residential schools, where visitors can choose programs to learn more about the ongoing intergenerational impacts of colonization. “Visitors really want to know the truth and the story, and to be able to have a discussion that helps them to have a [deeper] understanding,” says Jensen.

This article is part of On the land, a series produced in partnership with Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada highlighting Indigenous tourism experiences and operators across the country.

Where the Buffalo Roamed by Phyllis-Poitras Jarrett

She explains that through relationship building and honesty, even painful parts of the story can be shared. “We’re able to see that there’s understanding, and compassion – and that there is a willingness to learn and to be open,” says Jensen.

Jensen recommends visitors ask questions of guides, storytellers and hosts, but refrain from asking for validation, or challenging the stories shared. Curious questions about the land and cultural practices can be a form of honouring those cultures and histories.

“We can come to a place where we realize this is shared history, it’s not just Indigenous history,” says Jensen.

Across Canada, Indigenous hosts are creating experiences that focus on genuine conversation and authentic connections. People of all backgrounds are welcome, invited to be brought closer to Indigenous cultures and peoples.

Here are three ways travellers can be a part of reconciliation in action.

1. Listen closely to the Warrior Women

Listening to the Warrior Women of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation will help travellers ground themselves in the stories of the land. Currently residing in Calgary and Jasper, mother and daughter duo Matricia Bauer and Mackenzie Brown invite visitors to enjoy storytelling, drumming and songs at their shows. The pair are currently hosting a variety of Indigenous cultural experiences including plant medicine walks, art workshops and weekly fireside chats in Jasper. Every guest is invited to connect and tell tales around their fire.

“Indigenous tourism allows Indigenous to narrate and deliver their own story in their own voice,” says Bauer. In addition to being entertaining, these offerings are impactful for both the hosts and the attendees. “Creating relationships is essential to reconciliation, and Indigenous tourism introduces the public to people who choose to foster those relationships,” she adds.

Immersive experiences, like the ones hosted by Ktunaxa Nation nation in Cranbook, BC, offer visitors an opportunity to experience Indigenous hospitality on the land.Indigenous Tourism Canada

2. Unwind at St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino

At full-service destinations like St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, hosted by Ktunaxa Nation in Cranbrook, B.C., Indigenous hospitality shines through the accommodations, dining and the cultural events and experiences on offer, showcasing heritage, traditions and the land.

Visitors seeking an authentic immersive experience will find that connection through Speaking Earth, a two-night package that takes you into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. In a hands-on environment, visitors will hear stories, scrape hides, learn to bead, play traditional games and visit culturally significant locations that celebrate the uniqueness of Ktunaxa Nation.

Indigenous tourism can also play a role in reconciliation, as in the tours hosted by local knowledge keepers with Manitoulin Island's Wikwemikong Tourism.Indigenous Tourism Canada

3. Get hands on in Manitoulin Island with Wikwemikong Tourism

Wikwemikong Tourism offers visitors authentic Indigenous experiences reflecting the cultural lifestyles and traditions of the Anishnaabek people of the Three Fires Confederacy – Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi.

“Indigenous tourism for us is about sharing our story through our lens and changing the colonial narrative. To really foster true relationship building and reconciliation begins with sharing our history, our oral stories and our language which connects us to the land,” says Luke Wassegijig, tourism manager at Wikwemikong Development Commission.

Wikwemikong Tourism offers land-based learning and reconciliation experiences featuring local knowledge keepers, drummers, dancers and storytellers. Conversations and stories flow during guided medicine hikes, deer skinning/tanning, trapping, archery, shoreline fishing and crafts.

As Wassegijig explains, Indigenous tourism not only plays a role in reconciliation but is also a huge part of cultural reclamation for Indigenous peoples, too. “It’s an opportunity for our people to learn about traditions that may once have been lost,” he says.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.