By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook
When it comes to tourism in Banff National Park, Indigenous peoples are finally getting a seat at the table, helping to shape the national park’s strategic vision for the industry after roughly more than a century without an invitation.
An Indigenous tourism working group, part of the Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, Town of Banff and Parks Canada Tourism Together master plan to guide Banff National Park into the next decade, wants to see the industry become more inclusive and authentic in sharing Indigenous histories, stories and spaces throughout the park.
While there’s a long way to go, Travis Rider, a member of Iyarhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and of the working group, said just being invited to be a part of the conversation is a big step forward.
“Being included as Stoney people, and then the greater Indigenous peoples being included in this planning in itself is something,” he said. “Going back to even just 10 years ago, I don’t think this would have been possible.
“But we’re in 2022, and we’re starting to see a lot of people interested in Indigenous histories and places — not just in Banff National Park and the greater Rocky Mountains, but throughout the country.”
The working group, which was one of six formed to guide different areas of tourism planning, was asked to brainstorm and prioritize ideas and recommendations.
The three main areas of focus involve creating dedicated spaces for Indigenous peoples to practice their culture, generating more Indigenous tourism business opportunities, and thoughtfully addressing the Indigenous-led LANDBACK movement as it relates to reclaiming spaces in Banff National Park.
In total, 22 ideas and recommendations were generated by the 18-person working group that included mostly Indigenous but also non-Indigenous members.
Kirsten Ryder, of Iyarhe Nakoda First Nation, said her involvement was mainly in conversations around creating dedicated spaces for Indigenous peoples, originating with a vision for a cultural centre in the Banff townsite.
“This would be a place supported and fostered in the town of Banff,” Ryder said. “It would not only create a sense of belonging for Indigenous peoples, but it would be welcoming of visitors and others who wish to learn about the Stoney Nakoda and other First Nations, along with the history of this place.
“Having somewhere we can do that … it could encompass so many things that would really contribute to tourism in Banff. That can include hosting Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs, but also having cultural events and creating cross-cultural learning opportunities.”
Successfully creating space for Indigenous tourism in Banff National Park will require more than simply handing over the keys to a building.
“It would have to mean providing training support and more educational support for local Indigenous communities in the areas of tourism and hospitality,” said Ryder.
“Basically, it’s about reaching out and tapping those untapped resources — which are the people in these communities, and creating meaningful partnerships which help them to succeed.”
Other key recommendations from the group focused on reverting place names within the national park to their traditional Indigenous monikers, and the significance of certain sites to the Iyarhe Nakoda and other Indigenous peoples, some of which have become popular tourist destinations.
One such location has since become widely known as the crown jewel of Banff National Park — Lake Louise.
Before the picturesque lake received its name, the Iyarhe Nakoda people called it Hora Juthin Imne, or Lake of the Little Fishes, because the fish would only grow to a certain size in the cold glacial waters.
“If you’re in the Bow Valley, there are certain areas that have place names or signage there that you can read and learn from,” said Ryder. “But you often won’t see Indigenous history tied in when there most likely is a tie to an Indigenous story or history of that area that was left out.
“And you’ll rarely, if ever, see a story about an Indigenous historical figure, but there are plenty of examples of non-Indigenous people whose histories are told.”
Another idea suggested by the working group was to build a pathway connecting Mini Thni (Morley) to Lake Louise.
The Iyarhe Nakoda once erected teepees along the shoreline of Hora Juthin Imne, practicing ceremony, hunting, fishing and gathering.
Now, shuttles run tourists back and forth to manage visitation throughout the summer as what limited paid parking there is often fills up before 8 a.m.
Interpretive signage displayed at the waterfront tells visitors about the century-long history of Lake Louise as a hiking and climbing centre, including plaques about the teahouse and Abbot Pass hut.
But when a group of Iyarhe Nakoda First Nation members visited the site in 2020 for an inaugural Discovery Day event, they told a different version of the lake’s history, one that pre-dates its discovery by settlers and shifted the focus onto the lesser-known Iyarhe Nakoda guide who led them there — Edwin Hunter.
Hunter guided European settler Tom Wilson to the lake in 1882, and Wilson subsequently named the site Emerald Lake, which was later changed to Lake Louise in 1884 to honour Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
Three years after Hunter led Wilson to Hora Juthin Imne, the Canadian government implemented a pass system restricting the movements of Indigenous peoples without authorization. Before 1885, the Iyarhe Nakoda and other Indigenous groups used different areas throughout Banff National Park, moving freely.
Indigenous peoples were banned from the national park, with the exception of during Banff Indian Days, where groups were invited back in to entertain tourists.
The event represented tourist dollars for the park’s economy and festival organizers, and as a result, Indigenous peoples were welcome for the benefits they offered, but only under tight restrictions.
Looking at the history between Parks Canada and the area’s Indigenous peoples, Rider said more discussion should be had to ensure there is no room for misuse of Indigenous culture or knowledge going forward.
“I think that’s a deeper conversation we need to have as a community … pulling back to see what we can do in some of these already very popular places in terms of bringing back our practices without being exploited, and without exploitation of what we’re doing,” he said.
“We like to guard our stories so that they’re not misinterpreted and they’re not exploited.”
Ryder said she did not personally make recommendations around conversations about the LANDBACK movement within the working group, though she feels its presence and what it represents speaks for itself.
“I think that’s really tied to the history of Parks Canada pushing out local Indigenous groups to implement Banff National Park,” said Ryder. “These measures have prevented us from being able to access the land to hunt and harvest from it for ceremony, among many other things.
“There definitely needs to be a better process and approach to allow Indigenous peoples to interact with what are now known as parks lands.”
Some recommendations suggest giving land back to traditional territory holders, providing compensation for ceremony and allowing Indigenous communities a say in land use decisions over corporate stakeholders.
Nancy DaDalt, director of visitor experiences for Banff and Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT), said part of the group’s strategic vision is to create an Indigenous advisory council to help guide the final 10-year plan when it’s released in 2023.
“That group would really help us in the long-term as we begin to go into this area,” she said. “It’s really important work and we want to do it right. Relationship-building takes time and we want to make sure we do that right as well.”
To assist in the formation of the Indigenous work group to ensure appropriate representation and Indigenous cultural awareness, BLLT put out a request for proposal, which was awarded to Indigenous-owned consultant company Tataga Inc.
It was through the company’s principal and founder, Alec Carton of Carry the Kettle First Nation in Treaty 4, that BLLT was able to find Indigenous neighbours to support the group’s work.
The same process was used in forming other working groups, though DaDalt admits it took longer to form the Indigenous group than others, and their conversations also ran longer than what was allotted in the surveying and ideation process.
“We’re still relatively new to this arena and learning a ton. I know that taking the time was worth it though. Building relationships takes time and we want to make sure that we do that right — that is the first step,” said DaDalt.
“This isn’t just about making money, it’s about providing an opportunity for entrepreneurs to thrive here and being able to showcase our commitment that tourism is reconciliation in action.”
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