As the first province-wide, indigenous-based tourism group prepares to launch, members recently met in Liverpool and talked about issues such as the challenges involved in marketing indigenous culture.
Robert Bernard, executive chair of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada (ATAC) and a member of the newly formed Nova Scotia Indigenous Tourism working group, stressed the need to market in an authentic and sensitive way.
It's a point that some members of the public also commented on.
Todd Labrador, a master Mi'kmaq canoe maker from the Wildcat area in North Queens, spoke about the need for correct terminology as well as knowledge of the local history from both the indigenous and non-indigenous community.
"Even with our own people, that can be a challenge," said Labrador, who went on to explain differences between terminologies used by First Nations people in other parts of the country versus in Nova Scotia. "
To me a Mi'kmaq canoe and a Maliseet canoe is like the difference between a Volkswagon Jetta and a Honda."
Bernard spoke to around 40 people who gathered at the Liverpool Town Hall Arts and Cultural Centre.
Participants attended to learn more about what such a group could mean for indigenous tourism/business owners and operators in the province.
The Nova Scotia Indigenous Tourism working group started to take form a few months ago and the group is now registering with the Registry of Joint Stock Companies.
"It's important to have each region represented across Canada," said Bernard. "This provincial organization is going to be about business owners. It's going to be about promoting businesses involving the tourism sector so it's very specific."
Bernard, a member of Wagmatcook First Nation in Cape Breton, toured the southwestern end of the province, including Kejimkujik National Park, and had discussions with local tourism leaders and members of Acadia First Nation before ending his trip in Liverpool.
The goal of such a group would be to promote Mi'kmaq culture and to create employment opportunities for indigenous people. It also aims to provides visitors with the full story of Nova Scotia's history. Bernard says it was just a few years ago Mi'kmaq experiences started to be included in provincial tourism strategies.
"The impact inclusion can have is amazing," said Bernard.
According to Bernard, there is a great interest in indigenous culture and experiences from within Canada itself as well as from Europe, particularly Germany. There is also a growing interest in parts of Asia like China and South Korea. Those interests have taken Bernard and ATAC around the world to market indigenous communities and businesses around the world.
"We're hoping to create something that's going to be a viable business association that will be something that government and industry will invest into, funding is certainly one thing but sharing knowledge, sharing resources, and sharing connections and networking is ... valuable as well," said Bernard.
Bernard's presentation also included videos that highlighted indigenous business owners, many focused on artisans, but also on experience-driven tourism such as guiding and wilderness tours.
The video series was put together by the ATAC and Destination Canada and included indigenous people from across the country. The videos are used at major industry events across the country and the wider world to create awareness of indigenous tourism in Canada.
So far, Bernard says the response to the creation of the group has been good, but more work is needed to make sure destinations and businesses are prepared to market themselves to visitors from around the world.
"We have to be business ready, as an organization, we have to be market ready in order to promote people," said Bernard.
Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Provinces have much fewer indigenous businesses than other parts of the country. Most of the businesses that have registered with ATAC are in British Columbia and Alberta and start to thin out the further east you go. Bernard says having a group focused on the development of indigenous businesses in Atlantic Canada and in Nova Scotia could help change that.
"Part of that provincial strategy is creating partnership, creating knowledge sharing, creating events in regions like this, but also in First Nation communities or close to First Nation communities where we can invite the wide main stream of society," said Bernard.
Industry engagement meetings have already been held in Millbrook, Halifax and other parts of the province. The next ones will be in Cape Breton or Pictou. A summit on indigenous tourism is also being planned for the end of November.