New Brunswick

Indigenous tourism an untapped market in Atlantic Canada, industry officials say

Indigenous groups gathered in Moncton to look at ways to increase tourism revenue for first nations communities across the region.

Indigenous groups gather in Moncton to find ways to increase tourism revenue

Annie Clair is in Moncton at an Indigenous Tourism Summit representing the Mi'kmaq Basket Making and Heritage Path Tour. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Indigenous groups gathered in Moncton to find ways to increase tourism revenue for First Nations communities across the region.

Business owners, community leaders, artists as well as industry and government officials are attending the three-day Atlantic Indigenous Tourism Summit, which began Tuesday, and Patricia Dunnett, general manager at Metepenagiag Heritage Park, is one of them.

Dunnett, who has worked in Indigenous tourism for 20 years, sits on the board of directors of the Indigenous Tourist Association of New Brunswick (ITANB), a newly formed group with an aim to help members develop business plans, network and access local and international markets.

"There's quite a lot of momentum that's been building up over the years and New Brunswick is finally starting to feel that and I'm really really excited to be a part of that," said Dunnett.

Part of that momentum shows through a growing interest from tourists planning trips to First Nations communities. Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said a recent study shows more people are interested.

"In three years Indigenous tourism in this country has grown by 23 per cent in sales," said Henry.

"If you compare that to the rest of tourism over the same time period, it was about 13.5 per cent so almost double what's happening in the (non-Indigenous) tourism sector."

Patricia Dunnett, general manager for Metepenagiag Heritage Park, is behind the summit as the Atlantic representative at the Indigenous tourism association of Canada. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Henry said people are looking for an authentic cultural experience, "so we have to do that through either guided tours, storytelling, it could be hotel and assets and cultural centres, but it's not actually the bricks and mortar that people want to know, it's the people, it's the stories."

"It's sharing culture," he said.

He hopes more Indigenous communities can develop a marketable experience that can be shared with people from around the world.

According to Henry, expanding Indigenous tourism is good for the entire region. 

"There are a lot of places perceived in the same way," he said. "What Indigenous tourism can do for Atlantic Canada is differentiate Atlantic Canada as a destination."

Henry said sharing culture and increasing revenues can result in "so much social good."

Elsipogtog Mi'kmaq First Nation opened up to tourists last year with a Mi'kmaq basket-making and heritage tour. Annie Clair is a tour leader who's representing her group at the summit in Moncton.

"It's been busy; last year we had a lot of groups come in," she said.

Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said the sector is growing and communities in Atlantic Canada would be smart to develop the industry to separate itself from other destinations. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

She beams when talking about the people she's met since the tour started last summer.

"I enjoy sharing everything, and it lights people's faces up. They just want more," she said.

The Elsipogtog tour employs four people, but Clair hopes that number continues to rise. She wants to see more jobs in her community, but she also wants more people to understand her culture.

"It's not just for us, but it's for everybody to know our culture and our history and our language," she said.

Dunnett said things in the tourism industry have changed a lot over the past two decades. She said more support is available to Indigenous tourist ventures and communities are working together to support each other. 

"For me, to see people taking the initiative and taking control of their future is something that I hope to see people in first nations (continue to) do," Dunnett said. 

"If we work together, we create a stronger voice and we're able to really pool our resources and become a lot stronger."

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.