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Mar 22, 2014

Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell, wearing a cedar strip headdress and a sea shell-covered vest that makes clicking noises every time he moves, earned a standing ovation in Namibia, Africa, last fall for his passionate, no-notes invitation to book an authentic aboriginal travel experience in British Columbia.

An aboriginal youth dances at a Squamish powwow in 2008. — File photo by The Canadian Press

Campbell had the more than 600 delegates at the Adventure Travel World Summit standing and clapping — calling for more of what B.C.’s aboriginal tourism supporters are calling a cultural, spiritual and meaningful tourism experience.

Keith Henry, Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C.’s chief executive officer, says he’s had similar experiences in Australia and New Zealand, countries long considered innovators when it comes to developing aboriginal tourism markets, but it’s the Australians and New Zealanders who now are looking to B.C. for new ideas.

B.C.’s aboriginal-operated and -supported tourism vision has enormous appeal to travellers who look to make a cultural connection beyond downtown shopping and afternoons on the beach, Henry said.

“These are people who wouldn’t come exclusively for an aboriginal experience, but they want to add it to their visit while they are here,” he said. “And it’s not just driving by a bunch of totems and saying, ‘OK, that’s it.”’

Henry said the numbers of travellers wanting an aboriginal tourism experience in B.C. are increasing every year, and he believes it’s tied to the authenticity being offered travellers. Aboriginal tourism in B.C. earned $45 million last year, up from $20 million in 2012.

“We’ve been brought to Australia. We’ve been brought to New Zealand,” said Henry. “We’re being brought to the States and into Europe to explain how we’re developing aboriginal tourism. In Australia and New Zealand, the home of aboriginal tourism, a lot of that is government owned and government run. The benefits aren’t flowing back to the communities.”

“Ours is aboriginal owned and controlled,” said Henry.

On Vancouver’s north shore, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation operates Takaya Tours, which offers nature experiences for travellers that includes guided salmon adventures, nature walks and traditional sea-going canoe voyages up Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm where the tourists do the paddling. But the traditional heavy wood-carved canoes have been modified to make the voyage a bit easier on travellers.

“They’ve made these fibreglass ones, because to row a traditional one would be backbreaking work,” said Henry. “It’s not for the faint of heart even with a fibreglass one. You actually get to hear what it meant to the people who lived there for thousands of years.”

Stanley Park’s Klahowya Village in Vancouver saw 70,000 visitors last year.

Aboriginal cuisine is offered at the Kekuli Cafe at West Bank, near Kelowna.

Aboriginal Journeys at Campbell River on Vancouver Island offers grizzly bear and whale watching, and at Klemtu on the remote central coast visitors to Spirit Bear Lodge have the opportunity to see rare white spirit bears.

“One in four visitors, from research we’ve got and been part of, want an aboriginal experience,” Henry said. “How do we capture that? We’ve found a way to develop authentic aboriginal tourism where the communities are really engaged.”

He said much of his work in recent years has been convincing aboriginal communities to embrace tourism as an opportunity to showcase what he calls their cultural assets and make money without abusing their lands.

“When we talk about economic opportunities, this is about real jobs and a way that brings cultural revitalization forward,” said Henry. “It’s not just about pipelines and mines. This is actually something that communities kind of support without getting into a whole bunch of conflict.”

He said aboriginal tourism primarily involves allowing people from outside aboriginal communities to participate in their lives. It is nowhere near as drastic as giving up traditional territory for resource extraction, Henry said.

“People say, ‘Wow, we get to share our culture and people really want to hear about it.”’

Next month in Whistler, Henry’s aboriginal tourism association, hosts an international aboriginal tourism conference that will explore expanding aboriginal tourism globally. Delegates from across Canada and the United States are attending as well as others from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Bulgaria and Namibia.

On The Mighty Yellowhead
Come out O Little Moccasins, and frolic on the snow!
Come out O tiny beaded feet, and twinkle in the light!
I'll play the old Red River reel, you used to love it so:
Awake, O Little Moccasins, and dance for me tonight

Don't you just love the name Neepawa, with its lilting, musical sound? Say it softly, with a smile and give thanks, because in the Cree language, Neepawa means "abundance" or "place of plenty." Blessed with such a name, this delightful Manitoba community can't help but prosper. Continued

On British Columbi's Discovery Coast
Haida Giwa and Nitinat: Speaking of local culture... a highlight of our week on the Central Coast was meeting Frank and Cathy Brown of "See Quest Adventures." The couple operates a Native Interpretation Center at McLouglin Bay, near Bella Bella, we joined Frank Brown for one of his Giwa "ocean going canoe" trips; other guests enjoyed an interpretive walking tour and a Heiltsuik salmon barbecue. The Giwa is the same type of canoe used by Vision Quest in its 1,000 mile journey from the Skeena River to Victoria. With an ten person crew, you can make amazing time, and with Frank Brown's assistant Eric chanting an ancient Haida song, we skimmed over the waves without hardly working up a sweat. That experience alone was worth the week's trip. Try it; you'll agree! Details

First Nations Longhouse
Xa:ytem. The First Nations Longhouse, a few miles east of Mission, BC is a good example.
They are dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Sto'lo people who inhabited the lower Fraser Valley.

Contact: Terry Kozma, Marketing
35087 Lougheed Highway, Mission, BC V2W 6T1
604 820 9725, fax 604 820 9735

A Desert and Heritage Centre will be part of new project announced by Canada's Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Hon. Robert Nault who confirmed an investment of $2,833,650 for Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (OIBDC). The Economic Development funds will go towards the construction of the Nk'Mip Cellars winery, expansion of vineyards, and development of the Desert and Heritage Interpretive Centre initiative. These are three components of OIBDC's Nk'Mip Project, which also proposes the completion of an R.V. park, development of lodging facilities, and a 9 hole golf course on reserve land.

"This is an excellent example of the Government of Canada's commitment to working in partnership with Aboriginal people and northerners to improve their quality of life," said Minister Nault. "Canada's economic and social well-being benefits from strong, self-sufficient Aboriginal and northern people and communities."

Chief Clarence Louie said, "First Nations must focus on economic development and we appreciate that the Government of Canada is demonstrating progress in meeting their obligation to support First Nations in developing their economies. The success of our people is directly tied to how our people participate in the economies of this area."

This funding will assist the OIBDC and its partners in opening Nk'Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginally-owned winery in Canada. Nk'Mip Cellars will produce 25,000 cases of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) red, white and ice wines annually. The OIBDC is partnering on this project with a major Canadian winery. The 25,000 cases of VQA wine Nk'Mip expects to supply to the marketplace by 2006, is estimated at 6% of the total VQA production in British Columbia.

Funding announced today will also be put toward the improvement of existing vineyards and expansion of additional vineyards to support the winery. There will be 20-25 acres of organically grown grapes planted at the winery site. While the market stream for these grapes is identified as Nk'Mip Cellars, the grapes would be marketable to any premium wine producer in British Columbia.

This funding will also be used to develop the Osoyoos Band Desert and Heritage Interpretive Centre initiative. The Interpretive Centre will preserve up to 1,000 acres of the remaining tracts of desert lands left in Canada. The Centre could provide for First Nation stewardship of the lands, environmental education for visitors, and a program to restore habitat and reintroduce species at risk onto the lands. The OIBDC expects the Interpretive Centre to draw over 80,000 visitors per year, injecting $1.5-million into the local economy, while creating local jobs.

For further information, contact:
Diane Gielis, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
(604) 775-8145
Chief Clarence Louie, Osoyoos Indian Band
(250) 498-3444