Lennox Island hopes to go big with Mi'kmaq tourism experiences

Lennox Island First Nation hopes to become a major tourism attraction. This is the first year it will be launching hands-on experiences for visitors.

'What are some of the unique experiences we can offer here that people can't get anywhere else?'

Jeffery Bernard demonstrates a traditional drum song as German travel writer Katharina Eppert looks on. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Lennox Island First Nation is preparing for a big year in tourism after designing several hands-on visitor experiences in hopes of bringing more tourists to its small reserve. 

"We would like to have a packed season where every day we have visitors from somewhere coming,"  said Jamie Thomas, director of culture and tourism for Lennox Island First Nation.

A traditional hand drum takes a couple of hours to make. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Thomas says she's excited about the opportunities tourism could bring, including jobs and revenue. 

"We want to build careers for people in this community," said Thomas. 

'Indigenous tourism has taken a real flight in the last couple of years,' says Jamie Thomas. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Lennox Island will offer a variety of tourist experiences, from hand drum making, to Mi'kmaq quill art, to traditional cooking of bannock and clams in the sand. 

"What are some of the unique experiences we can offer here, that people can't get anywhere else in Prince Edward Island?" said Thomas. 

"We really want to touch people with our history, our culture," she said. 

Thomas says Indigenous tourism has "taken a real flight" in the last couple of years and Lennox Island wants to tap into that demand for culturally authentic experiences. 

Visitors learn how to stretch and tie moose hide to make their own traditional hand drums. (Laura Meader/CBC News)

"They are learning from grassroots people," she said.

"It's pretty unique, it's very hands-on, it's culturally relevant." 

German travel writers visit

A group of travel writers from Germany recently visited to do the hand drum work shop. It was part of a promotional tour hosted by the Nova Scotia and P.E.I. tourism departments. 

Writers return to their home countries and put pen to paper about their visit and that's exposure Lennox Island is happy to get. 

"It's the first time I try to handcraft something by myself, " said writer Michael Soltys. 

Michael Soltys tightens his hand drum made of moose hide. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"It's a pretty interesting and new experience that most people don't know," said fellow-writer Philip Duckwitz. 

Duckwitz seemed to have a real knack for drum making, winning praise from the Lennox Island staff. 

German travel writer Philip Duckwitz poses with his finished drum, 'I think it's pretty nice.' (Laura Meader/CBC)

"This is something really unique to experience," Duckwitz said. "I hope it will have a nice sound."

Visitors learn how to soak, stretch and wrap moose hide around a wooden drum frame — punching holes in the hide and eventually pulling hide strings through to tighten it and make a finished product. 

A group of German travel writers show off their finished hand drums. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Tour guides also share stories about Mi'kmaq culture and teach visitors basic drumming skills and a song. 

Mi'kmaq tourism a provincial priority

The province identified Mi'kmaq tourism as a top priority in a recent five-year-strategy document. 

Grant MacRae, a marketing and sales officer with P.E.I. Tourism, says the demand for Indigenous tourism is growing across Canada. 

German travel writer Michael Soltys snaps a photo of a hand drum demonstration at Lennox Island. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The province is concentrating on authentic cultural experiences and promoting those types of adventures in its marketing. 

Plans to grow

Thomas has been working with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and says there is huge potential, saying it will not only bring in revenue but create a better understanding of their culture. 

"We're hoping to really expand," she said. 

She says in the future they hope to build a traditional wigwam village so people can stay overnight.

"What an experience it would be to come to Lennox Island and actually sleep in a wigwam for a night," she said. 

"We really want to have people to experience what Lennox Island has to offer."

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