A tourism consultant says the "raw, virgin land and lakes, clean beautiful air and friendly, warm-hearted people" in Ontario's remote First Nations could draw many visitors to the area, despite the distances.
Bruce Fallen is working with the Wasaya Group to consult with First Nations about what experiences they'd like to offer tourists. The Wasaya Group is owned by 12 First Nations in northwestern Ontario and runs several businesses, including Wasaya Airways.
"The potential for tourism is unlimited," Fallen said. "We're consulting with the 12 Wasaya First Nations over the summer to find out how the communities see the tourism industry. We can't go in and tell residents what they should offer to visitors."
Fallen sees eco-tourism, cultural tourism and fishing and hunting as three areas for development for First Nations, but he said it could be a decade or more before there is a fully-fledged tourism industry in the remote north.
Keeping youth 'close to home'
Still, Fallen said, the benefits are worth the time and effort.
"Unlike mining and forestry, tourism as an economic driver takes nothing from the land but enjoyment," he said.
One of the biggest benefits Fallen sees in First Nations communities is the ability to provide employment for young people.
"[They can] keep their youth there in the summer and keep them close to home and let them experience what outside visitors see in their communities," he said.
"When they're talking to outside visitors, they're going to be very happy with what they're going to hear, this in turn will create lots of pride in their communities. They're going to be proud to work there and live there."
A tourism summit is planned for December and will pull together the information gathered during the summer consultation sessions to help First Nations and the Wasaya Group deterime how to proceed.