Want to travel more sustainably? Look to Indigenous tourism experiences
Roth & Ramberg
Sustainable travel is about so much more than simply buying carbon offsets for flights.
Eager travellers are seeking out summer experiences that support local communities and protect natural environments. Indigenous tourism experiences are the perfect fit for today’s planet-conscious traveller’s itinerary.
“People are realizing this planet is vulnerable, and maybe the way some of us live on it, maybe we need to recalibrate, to understand Indigenous values as a more sustainable way forward,” says Keith Henry, who is Métis and President and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
Henry sees Indigenous People sharing their culture and values, including the important relationship to the land and water, as a powerful force in the travel and tourism space and beyond. Many visitors relish in the breathtaking and varied scenery across the country; experiencing it alongside an Indigenous guide offers a better, more complete understanding of the interconnected impacts of sustainable ways of life.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you just see the landscape. You don’t actually realize there’s an entire ecosystem of plants and animals,” Henry explains. “We lived on that land and we survived on that land, and helping people realize that connection is so important.”
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Guides can share personal perspectives on the impacts of climate change on their communities. “I see a lot of our tourism businesses trying to help educate visitors about the importance of what we’re seeing,” Henry says.
Among many Indigenous tourism experiences, wellness is as much about the wellbeing of the land as those visiting. To that end, Henry says Indigenous tourism operators value responsible and sustainable business practices, and some communities set visitor limits to prevent natural landscapes being overrun.
The experiences are as varied as the cultures they represent: Canada’s three distinct groups of Indigenous Peoples comprise Métis, Inuit and more than 600 First Nations communities, each with their own stories to tell. “In every single part of this country that you visit, you can find an Indigenous experience locally,” Henry says.
To start, check out these sustainability-focused experiences that have a smaller impact on the planet, but a big impact on visitors.
Reconnect with nature in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest
For thousands of years, the Kitasoo Xai’xais people have called the Great Bear Rainforest home. Located in Klemtu, BC, this stunning coastal area is home to one of the world’s rarest animals – white-coated black bears, known as spirit bears – as well as grizzly bears, black bears and plentiful marine life.
Experience this magnificent wilderness at Spirit Bear Lodge, where locals guide wildlife viewing while sharing their cultural stories. Owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, the lodge offers all-inclusive tour packages for three, four, or seven nights, with hiking, kayaking and canoeing options available for the adventurous.
Sustainability informs all parts of the experience at Spirit Bear Lodge, from the conservative, ‘at a distance’ approach to wildlife viewing to the slow pace that places emphasis on appreciating every part of the rainforest. The Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation is committed to protecting their lands for future generations, guided by the vision that the wealth and complexity of forests, waters and wildlife will be here forever.
Experience the Métis way of life on the land
The activities at Métis Crossing, an expansive cultural interpretive centre in Smoky Lake, Alta., change with the seasons, a reflection of the traditional life of the land of the Métis.
Métis stories are shared through a variety of interactive experiences, from a guided canoe trip on the scenic North Saskatchewan River along a historic fur trade route, to time at a traditional hunting camp with a Métis knowledge holder. A must-see stop is the Métis Crossing Wildlife Park, home to rare white bison, wood bison and plains bison. Learn why these striking creatures – known as “bufloo” in Michif, the language of the Métis – were significant, followed by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the paddocks.
Finish a visit to Métis Crossing with delicious Indigenous cuisine. Ingredients with traditional ties to the Métis are grown on site, like saskatoon berries. Métis Crossing also offers options to stay overnight, including a new boutique lodge designed by a Métis architect, and an on-site campground where you can glamp in a traditional trapper tent.
Immerse yourself in Innu culture on the sea
The small First Nations Innu community of Unamen Shipu is located 400 kilometres northeast of Sept-Îles, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Known as La Romaine in French, this special place is accessible only by boat or plane. Head here for a truly remote experience, where you can disconnect from the distractions of your daily life and get to know the natural world that surrounds you.
You’ll experience the vibrancy of Innu culture, from traditional hunting, trapping and fishing to crafting, cuisine and language this summer on a nine-day immersion tour. You’ll encounter the vastness of this wilderness territory, where the St. Lawrence River turns into the sea. It’s a place where traditional relationships with plants, trees and animals have been preserved. Activities abound: Catch salmon and learn to smoke it, hike to see the area’s rich flora and fauna up close, take a traditional craft workshop and listen to ancient Innu tales. Immersion and reconciliation with Indigenous lands is the focus, making for an unforgettable experience.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.