If the phrase “aboriginal tourism” conjures up images of kitschy performances and uncomfortable cultural appropriation, Keith Henry is intent on painting a different picture.
Imagine instead a dinner of fresh fish at Salmon n’ Bannock, a restaurant in Vancouver owned by a Nuxalk community member. Or a snowshoe trek to view the northern lights with members of the Métis and Dene cultures at their Aurora Village resort in the Northwest Territories. Or a wild medicine camp in the Yukon led by members of the Champagne and Aishihik community.
“There’s been a misunderstanding in the tourism industry about how to develop visits with aboriginal people,” he says. “These indigenous owners incorporate their culture into a whole range of things.”
Today, aboriginal tourism represents a small but growing slice of Canada’s tourism industry. In destinations such as British Columbia, 1 in 4 visitors say they want to engage with aboriginal communities during their trips. As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017, it’s fitting that cultures dating back thousands of years should take center stage.
“Canada is famous for our landscapes, and we have great cities, but aboriginal people are thriving here, too,” says Henry, a member of the Métis culture. “It’s what sets Canada apart.”