How much culture to share can be a sensitive topic when it comes to Indigenous tourism

How much culture should Indigenous communities share and how much should they keep for themselves?

2018 International Indigenous Tourism Conference being held in Saskatoon

Kevin Haywahe runs a cultural camp with his brothers out on Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

Kevin Haywahe has been conducting culture camps on Carry the Kettle First Nation for about 20 years.

But it's a balancing act.

He says people come from all around the world to have an authentic First Nations experience. He teaches the history of the Assiniboine Sioux tribe, which his family comes from. They teach campers about fishing, tanning hides, riding horses, the history of the pipe, language and protocol.

'We've got to keep our soul.' - Kevin Haywahe

"'We go through the tourism of helping non-Indigenous people understand our culture," said Hawahe. 

Haywahe said that some people come to his camp wanting more. For example, he has been asked for a sundance, something that is not a part of their culture. He said he shares stories and not much else of the ceremonies his people practice. 

"We've got to keep our soul," he said. 

He says he shares his culture with others so there will be less discrimination toward Indigenous people. 

"Share it to a point, share it to the people help them understand it. Lots of them don't understand it that's why they mock it or disrespect it." 

Elmer Eashappie is a panellist at the 2018 International Indigenous Tourism Conference being held in Saskatoon this week. He said his topic, "Is it selling off our culture or plain simple business?" is considered controversial or taboo to talk about, especially among elders. 

"I think they were afraid of selling eagle feathers, selling pipes, selling rattles. We're really not selling their culture. I always say it's how you were taught and how you perceive it because my teachings and other people's teachings are different." 

Eashappie has been involved in Indigenous tourism for 20 years and has done more than 75 cultural camps. He says being sensitive to culture within Indigenous tourism is important to educate non-Indigenous people. 

"To this day in 2018 I still hear the stories of can we go onto the reserves? Can we go to powwows? I'm thinking what world do you live in? That's how much ignorance is out there," Eashappie said. 

Indigenous tourism brings in $121 million provincially, according to Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. He said he doesn't view the association's role in terms of policing the cultural aspect of Indigenous tourism.

Henry said they have created a national guide on authenticity and market readiness.

"It's a checklist of things that we know have to be met. Was the community involved? Were the elders behind it?" he said. "The last thing we want is a bunch of entrepreneurs develop businesses that are going to be not positive for the community."

Haywahe says his culture camp is growing each year and he will continue to share the positive aspects of his culture with those who want to learn. 

"Share with them so they'll know. To make life better for our people, to gather, to connect and make our people a strong, healthier generation for our kids."

About the Author

Ntawnis Piapot is Nehiyaw Iskwew from Piapot Cree Nation. She has a journalism degree from the University of Regina, and is a graduate from the INCA Media and Intercultural Leadership Program from the First Nations University. Ntawnis has been a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, APTN National News, CTV Regina, VICE News, J-Source and Eagle Feather News. Email: