By Regan Treewater
(ANNews) – Canada’s rugged wilderness and breathtaking natural expanse appeal to the adventurous traveler in us all. Tourists from near and far flock to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta each year to take in the stunning panorama of colors and awe-inspiring terrain. The Banff and Canmore regions are international icons of natural beauty, and the numbers of visitors to these areas each year reflects this. Travelers have no shortage of organized tours and excursions to choose from as they plan out their explorations. However, beyond the sloping peaks, and captivating postcard shots, most travel facilitators fail to provide clients with perspective on the spiritual and historical significance of the land – after all, there is so much more to a place than what first meets the eye.
Brenda Holder is a Master Interpretive Guide and the founder of Mahikan Trails, a Metis organized tour company specializing in promoting greater understanding of the rich history and bounty of the traditional lands through group excursions and facilitated discovery activities.
“A Professional Interpretive Guide is a whole host of things. The ‘interpretive’ component is about helping guests forge meaningful connections as they’re guided through the history,” explained Holder in a recent interview.
“For lack of a better term, you need to throw in the ‘make me care factor’ to create these connections. Then you have the word ‘guide’, and this is an extremely important one as it implies a relationship with people – taking people to places that they may not always be familiar with.
“A Professional Interpretive Guide facilitates and bring the person somewhere, but also lets them emotionally and intellectually arrive there in their own time.”
Holder and her team take an extraordinary approach to conventional tourism in that Indigenous teachings, traditions, and values lie at the core of the services they offer. “It is that people have access to a company that is Indigenous so they know that they will be exposed to the teachings in an authentic way,” commented Holder.
Customers are able to explore the same sights visited by other tour operators while simultaneously learning about the plants, animals, and traditions that saturate the land beneath their feet. Instead of simply showing their customers around the region, Holder and her colleagues introduce their visitors to their surroundings in a way that creates a lasting impression and relationship with that land.
“Initially I came into the guiding world by accident,” admitted Holder.
“I had no intention, but I had a whole bunch of knowledge and skills. I was working for the British Military and there was a sequence of events that led me to what I do now.
“I once pointed out a bear track to some soldiers – they were intrigued right away, but I was surprised because for me, this was so obvious. Through enough encounters of a similar nature I realized I have important things to share.
“I couldn’t foresee the rest of my life working for somebody else, so starting up my own business seemed the logical way to go. The most important part of it was that the content had to be appropriate and respectful of my culture.”
Now, Mahikan Trails guides visitors through journeys of discovery in a myriad of different facilitated explorations. “Our medicine walks are particularly popular,” explained Holder. “People are often stunned that we offer medicine walks in the winter as well. Cold affects the chemical properties of the plants, and so there are some medicines that are specifically gathered in winter.”
Mahikan Trails has also developed engaging curricula for the facilitation of corporate teambuilding. “This was challenging, because we needed to design a program that would make group bonding possible while still focusing primarily on creating connections with the land using our core values. A lot of the teambuilding workshops I’d seen previously were basically a series of ‘goofy little games’. We wanted to allow for the bonding experience, but through interactions with the surrounding nature. So, our programs are task-oriented. Participants, in groups, need to interact with their environment in a practical way. Our Interpretive Guides teach them concepts and skills, and then together, they put that knowledge to work in order to achieve their designated goals together.”
The word “Mahikan” means “wolf” in Cree, and like their namesake, Mahikan Trails continues to tread these rich traditional lands. Holder’s team goes beyond tourism and infuses education into their programming in a way that appeals to travelers from all walks of life.
“We get a lot of people coming to us that have lost their connections with their own indigenous heritage and find it extremely meaningful to be able to reconnect through our programs.”
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