Winnipeg hosts huge Indigenous tourism conference

Justice Murray Sinclair with Alberta Native News Reporter Terry Lusty at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference in Winnipeg last month. (Photo supplied.)

By Terry Lusty, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – Indigenous tourism is an expanding and all-encompassing industry.

That was the message from conference organizers, presenters and delegates attending the 10th annual International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC)  held last month at downtown Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre. It was an event that attracted approximately 1,100 delegates from throughout Canada’s 10 provinces, three territories and overseas locations like New Zealand, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

Opening ceremony at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference in Winnipeg. Photo by Terry Lusty

To illustrate a possible business enterprise that could fly in the industry, consider the potential for some seniors who are adept at storytelling, poetry, singing, acting, etc. Knowledge keepers and Elders could also contribute in this capacity. After all many have first-hand knowledge and experiences that they can draw on. They could play host at retreats, camps and gatherings on the plains, in the bush country, and the mountains. They could also demonstrate or teach traditional crafts at community centres, schools, winter carnivals, rodeos, round dances, powwows and so on. Really, the possibilities are endless. One simply has to think creatively and apply oneself accordingly.

Or, how about encouraging those who are skilled in bicycle repairs? A good many tourists and visitors like to cycle around to visit communities and see the sights. With a bit of start-up funding, one could quite easily put up a retail sales and repair shop.

These enterprises are just two examples of what is possible. The key, again, is to think creatively. Indeed, the possibilities are limitless.

The IITC in Winnipeg had much to offer and it was definitely an incentive to those who are new or foreign to the industry. Connecting with others in the industry was a valuable part of the conference offerings. Some call it mentorship as individuals connected with one another, shared knowledge and information, and learned from it.

There were also presenters and keynoters who offered insights regarding partnerships and valuable resource possibilities.

One of the Yukon delegates told other delegates about his home-operated business of renting out log cabins. Then, too, there were those who shared their experiences as hunting and fishing guides, leading hiking tours, and more.

The conference theme was ‘Adventure to Understanding,’ featuring some of the industry’s leading entrepreneurs and innovators who offered inspiration and learning.

Individual breakout sessions addressed such areas as travel, media, risk management, community partnering, land acknowledgement, marketing trends, community development, and how success can reach greater heights and levels. All this, plus the value and application of cultural inclusion.

Two major keynoters were Canada’s gem – the Honourable Murray Sinclair and New Zealand’s Maori Tourism leader, Pania Tyler-Nathan. Both high-profile individuals centred their presentations around ‘Reconciliation in Action” a topic that is in vogue during this era of awakening and healing as communities come together to shed the historical traumas of past colonization and subjugation.

An opening reception entitled ‘A Taste of Turtle Island,’ welcomed organizers and presenters on March 8th, replete with traditional and modern vittles. This was followed the next evening, March 9, with the gala banquet which was followed with the annual tourism awards. Of the five national award categories, Albertans proudly walked away with two of the honours. Metis Crossing took home the ‘Leading the Way in Sustainability Award.” Indigenous Tourism, Alberta captured the ‘Provincial/Territorial Association of the Year Award, with Quebec and New Brunswick being second and third.

As for the remaining three national awards, they went to:  1) Dakota Dunes Resort and Casino – Business Award, 2) Josee Leblanc of Atikuss Canada – Female Entrepreneur Award, and 3) Luke Wassegijig of Wikwemikong – Original Award for Exceptional Industry Leadership. The latter award is presented to a business or organization leading the way through excellence in all business aspects – i.e. marketing campaigns, trip advisor reviews, generated revenue, staff turnover, repeat customers.

In addition to the national awards were four or five provincial awards that recognized Manitoba’s input as this year’s conference host.

“The winners have successfully weathered several tough years – and continue to lead and  thrive,” commented Keith Henry, national CEO and President for Indigenous tourism.

Holly Courchene, Manitoba’s CEO, also praised the award recipients saying, “Such winners represent the bringing together of different cultures – First Nation, Metis, and Inuit – and their unique tourism experiences.”

The ITAC’s (Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada’s) primary purpose is, “to improve the socio-economic situation of Indigenous people within the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada” while the focus is, “marketing, product development support, and creating partnerships between government departments and industry leaders from across Canada.”

The national conference has now held their event at Membertous, Nova Scotia as well as Calgary, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Winnipeg. The next round is scheduled to take place in Ottawa.


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