Authentic, Indigenous owned-and-operated tourism experiences are a fast-growing area of interest for local and international travellers visiting Alberta.
With many Canadians eager to learn more about Indigenous cultures, and international visitors seeking an authentic Indigenous experience, revenue for Indigenous tourism businesses is projected to reach $258M in 2023, .
National Geographic’s 2023 Best of the World list features several Alberta Indigenous tourism operators, and in March, Travel Alberta and Indigenous Tourism Alberta committed $6 million to support Indigenous tourism development.
“We’re at an incredible moment for Indigenous tourism right now,” says Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta. “Demand for Indigenous experiences among travellers has never been higher. With the right partnerships and support in place, it’s having a real benefit on the lives of their families and communities, and creating truly unique and memorable experiences for travellers.”
Here are 4 memorable ways to experience Indigenous tourism in Alberta
Tipi camp teaches the power of love and healing
Operated by April Isadore near the southern shores of Lesser Slave Lake, Kokum’s Outreach provides many services that all work towards the goal of providing mental and spiritual healing. Located just west of the Driftpile Cree Nation reservation, the unique Indigenous experience focuses on emotional, spiritual, physical and mental healing through wellness camps based on the medicine wheel teachings.
According to a profile from Indigenous Tourism Alberta, “Kokum” means “grandmother” in the Cree language, and represents Isadore’s mother and the power to be strong and to love unconditionally. As someone who has experienced firsthand the loss of identity, culture and traditions that being removed from her family caused, Isadore offers activities and services like a medicine walk with an Elder, traditional dancing, a tipi demonstration, tarot card readings, massages, hand games, healing through painting and more.
Anyone is welcome at Kokum’s Outreach for a day, a weekend or a one-week camping and healing experience. Day or overnight stays are available from May 1 to Sept. 15 2023.
See the land through an Indigenous lens
Join Cree Knowledge Keeper Matricia Brown for Warrior Women’s Wapakwanis Plant Walk, Make & Take, for a fascinating journey of discovery through the variety of plant medicines found in Jasper National Park. This informative exploration of the food and medicines combines the enchanting with the practical during an educational, immersive experience.
Starting at the Jasper Museum, the 1.5-hour experience starts with an hour of plant exploration, and a half-hour of hands-on medicine making, including salves, lotions, hydrosols, soaps, mineral salts and plant processes, allowing participants to leave with knowledge and products they’ve created themselves.
Matricia is a member of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, and along with her daughter Mackenzie, she also offers Fireside Chats, drumming shows, and workshops.
“Our Fireside Chats are our most popular experience – we try to coordinate them around events like Canada Day, Indigenous Day or Canada Parks Day,” Brown says. “The more people ask questions and be open, the more they learn about the language, culture and reconciliation.”
Workshops can include rattle- and moccasin-making, and learning how to make tinctures and tonics to be incorporated into ‘mocktails’ or for cooking.
“Last weekend we held a story session at a Pride event, and we had extra drums, so a bunch of kids took part,” Brown says. “We played Row Your Boat and it was really a lot of fun!”
Take a trip back in time to experience the fur trade
About an hour west of Red Deer on Highway 11 W, is Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. Sitting at the confluence of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan rivers, historically this area was essential to the survival of both fur traders and Indigenous Peoples.
Situated in a diverse landscape of parklands, mountains and prairies, the trading post operated for 76 years, drawing on the resources and culture of eight different First Nations.
One of many Indigenous experiences at the Site is Métis miyotôtâkewin – a Métis welcome, a two-hour immersive cultural experience where you’ll learn about fur trapping, fingerweaving and taste traditional Metis foods. You’ll also have fun learning how to jig with Metis dancers, and hear from an Elder about their language, culture and traditions.
This experience is available June through August with fees available online. Admission to the site is free for youth 17 and younger .
Families can also immerse themselves in interpretive experiences like a blacksmith station, Métis camp, kids activity books, play fort and visitor centre. Sites of interest include Bison Lookout, where you’ll see a herd of plains bison, interpretive story stations along the Chimney and the David Thompson Trails, a war memorial honouring those from the region who served in various wars, and the archaeological remains of four fur trade forts.
Archeology at Rocky Mountain House has a rich past, with the first dig in 1937, and archaeologists continuing to monitor and preserve its cultural treasures. The chimneys of the last fur trade post – named Rocky Mountain House by the Hudson’s Bay Company – still stand today, and can be seen on the Chimney Trail.
Available camping includes Heritage Camping, where you’ll experience the lifestyle of the fur trade while camping in a tipi, Métis trapper tent or trapline cabin, Front-Country Camping with unserviced trailer sites and a picnic shelter, and Equipped Camping which lets visitors with no gear experience the area by supplying a fully equipped camping kit, a six-person tent (set up), sleeping pads, sleeping bags and a camping orientation session.
Experience Indigenous culture at a unique ranch
Spend a day with owner/operators Tracey Kettl and Tim Mearns, viewing the area’s amazing wildlife, horseback riding, learning Indigenous hunting traditions, or picking up a bow and learning to shoot.
For winter adventurers, a snowshoeing experience is great way to learn about how Indigenous people worked with the land, and survived the cold winter months!
Day experiences are available for groups of at least four, from December to March, and start with a snowshoe safety lesson followed by a tour through the forest. Learn about natural navigation, winter medicine and animal tracks, then end the experience with a cosy campfire meal in the outdoor shelter.
Wrap up your day during any season by combining your Painted Warriors outdoor adventures with a ‘glamping’ experience – a peaceful night’s sleep in one of their rustic year-round tents, outfitted with wood stoves.
Check-in, have a snack and take a short tour of the ranch. Later, enjoy a delicious dinner, followed by a roaring campfire while sharing stories in the quiet of the natural surroundings. Wake up to a hearty breakfast to get you ready for the next day of adventure!
Leave it how you found it
Always remember when enjoying these Indigenous experiences and other explorations to treat the land and nature with respect, and leave nothing behind.
“Indigenous tourism can be inherently sustainable and regenerative,” Bird says. “ITA members pride themselves on introducing travellers to Indigenous world-views that put connection to the land at the core of everything they do. As one of our members likes to say, ‘If you think of a tree as your grandfather, you treat that tree differently.’ By educating more people about this approach to life, our world will naturally become more sustainable.”
If you go:
- Kokum’s Outreach – Call 780-507-1047 to book day or overnight stays from May 1st until September 15, 2023
- Warrior Women – Plant Walks take place most Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m. . Tickets are $45 per person, free for kids younger than 12, and should be purchased online in advance. Weekly Fireside Chats in Jasper are $45 per person. For large group availability, visit their Schools or Corporate pages.
- Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site – Advanced reservations required for bookable experiences. Programs or workshops are customizable to suit your needs. For information and to book, call 1-403-845-2412 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Painted Warriors – Book online. The ranch can accommodates guests with mobility challenges and other disabilities as well as most dietary requirements.