by Deena Goodrunning
(ANNews) – Edmonton-based Métis citizen Keith Diakiw is the founder of Talking Rock Tours – the first ever geo-educational hiking and sightseeing adventure company that is 100 percent Indigenous owned. It offers tours of various historical and geological locations in Alberta through a scientific and Indigenous lens. It is also one of the original members of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. In an interview, Diakiw shared his story.
Diakiw was born in Saskatchewan, but grew up in Hinton, AB. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Geography from the University of Lethbridge, followed by a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Archeology, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the University of Alberta. Since 2001 he has been a reservist, proudly serving in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Diakiw’s Métis ancestors come from the Red River settlement and his fourth-great grandfather was Joseph Ouellette Sr. who fought alongside Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont at the Battle of Batoche in 1885. Ouellette was 93 years old when he fought in the battle and he was killed on the last day. For his bravery during the resistance, Ouellette was the only one given a casket burial of the Métis warriors who had died during the battle.
Diakiw said that whenever he wears his Métis sash he carries his ancestors with him. “With wearing my Batoche sash I still [have] that connection to the past, the connection to my ancestors, giving Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, and Joseph Ouellette Sr. a voice. All their hard work and their fight wasn’t for naught. It wasn’t in vain. It’s very fruitful now. Everyone wants to be Indigenous. You know that. I know that. It’s a great time to be alive for an Indigenous person. And now we need to pave the way for even a better future for our children.”
Diakiw said he started Talking Rock Tours after he was laid off from his job in the oilsands industry in 2017. It should have been a stressful day, he said but instead, it felt like he was being given an opportunity to begin something new. He had always wanted to start a business and he saw Indigenous tourism as leading the way for meaningful, memorable types of experiences. He also saw Talking Rock Tours as a legacy piece where he could be doing something more with his life than making money.
Diakiw’s love of rocks also influenced his career path. He wanted to share his knowledge and love of rocks with others, not just from a scientific perspective but also an Indigenous perspective.
“It’s really cool how different nations have different kinds of creation stories about the little people and how we are from the rocks,” Diakiw said. Humans are derived from stardust, he added. The gasses stars produce when they die eventually form a planet, which then creates rock and then eventually life. He spoke about the special Cree star stories told by George Desjarlais.
Diakiw said that scientists are now understanding the value of Indigenous knowledge. “In some ways, science is still behind the oral histories and the way we do things as Indigenous peoples.”
Another thing he loves about giving tours is the opportunity to meet so many different people. He learns something new from each person he meets. He said that key takeaways for his tours are science for the mind, stories from the heart and history of the land.
As much as he loves giving tours, the tourism industry doesn’t always guarantee financial stability, and times were especially tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Diakiw. With a family to support and bills to pay Diakiw made the decision to sign a Class B contract and work full-time with the Canadian Armed Forces. He now works as the Northern Environmental Coordinator and is also a member of the Defence Advisory Aboriginal Group. He operates Talking Rock Tours on the side, and while he would love to be able to operate it full-time he said he needs to also be realistic.
When asked what he would say to people who might think he is selling out by giving tours that feature Indigenous knowledge, Diakiw said that he doesn’t feel like he’s selling out. Instead he’s trying to give enough information to set the record straight and to also generate interest in Indigenous tourism. He said that he had attended a workshop in Enoch where the topic of monetizing Indigenous knowledge was discussed.
“The biggest fear a lot of people have is that if we don’t do it, non-Indigenous people will step in. Because everyone wants to be Indigenous now, “ Diakiw said. “So if we don’t step up and tell our story, then it leaves that opportunity of room for non-Indigenous people to make documentaries or write things on the internet or articles that aren’t true.”
There’s a cost to running his business, but Diakiw said he also doesn’t want to come across as an infomercial. “You don’t want it to be like an infomercial where it’s like: Okay if you want Indigenous knowledge it’s $5.99 a minute. Okay let’s begin…. So, I think the biggest thing is to share what we’re comfortable sharing, because it’s important. Because if we don’t, someone else will tell our story.”
Diakiw concluded the interview by saying that he still has lots to learn about the tourism industry and running a business. “It’s always evolving and you should never claim you know everything and that everything is great, because it’s a journey just like life. And there are hard times and good times, and you just kind of have to roll with the ups and downs and enjoy the ride.”
More information about Keith Diakiw and Talking Rock Tours can be found at his website www.talkingrocktours.com