By Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada invites Canadians and travellers to explore experiences across the country through an Indigenous lens.
Working with Parks Canada, ITAC recognizes the role Indigenous Peoples have in protecting historic sites, national parks, and conservation areas, and is hoping to share the stories of the area along with the rich history here in Canada.
Keith Henry, president and CEO for ITAC, encourages people to get out and experience the culture in Alberta.
“First Nations and Metis communities understand the importance of cultural tourism and experiences being important for their local community and economy. We’re seeing a persistent commitment, despite the challenges of the pandemic, to building Indigenous experiences throughout Alberta.”
In Alberta, explorers can experience Writing-on-Stone, south-east of Lethbridge, a historical site where Indigenous people have come to pray and perform ceremonies. Petroglyphs carved into the rock are a testament to the area’s importance, which can be felt while in its presence.
Banff National Park has the Mahikan Trails, where visitors can go on guided tours to identify flora and fauna valued for their healing properties. This goes along with Girth Hitch Guiding, an Indigenous-owned tour where climbers can learn to hike the mountains and share in the education of the history of the area.
Recently, Waterton Lakes National Park opened its new Visitor Centre showcasing the Blackfoot culture of the area. This involved working with Indigenous members to help facilitate an interactive learning experience while honouring the Treaty 7 land the park resides on.
“Not a lot of people understand the relevance to the Indigenous community and the people that were living here previously,” Henry said. “So giving people that different type of experience, I think, brings a fresh look at some of those destinations.”
For travellers looking to plan ahead, Henry has some advice.
“We have a platform called destinationindigenous.ca that gives you a national scope. It has a number of businesses listed there. More specifically, if you’re interested in looking locally, I would strongly encourage people to look at Indigenous Tourism Alberta’s website (indigenoustourismalberta.ca), giving smaller business opportunities and experiences.”
With a rich culture throughout Alberta, traditional experiences are great way to get out and enjoy summer while learning the history of the land.
“We believe tourism is reconciliation, it gives us a chance to go support Indigenous people in a way that we maybe didn’t think of before. We’re seeing a lot of Canadians, whether it’s in Alberta or any part of the provinces or territories in this country, wanting to support reconciliation. And we think encouraging people to go explore these experiences, that in itself, supports reconciliation.”
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