Travel goes hand in hand with the cultural and economic empowerment of communities. This year for International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we’re highlighting some incredible Indigenous experiences at the forefront of tourism in their communities. We spoke to champions from these experiences as well as our teams who curate our trips about the power of tourism – when done right – to amplify authentic voices and encouraging greater representation. Keep reading to see what they had to say and to learn about these incredible MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences.
For the first time, the Abegweit Mi’Kmaw Nation is partnering with a tour operator to share their story with travelers. During this new and exclusive cultural experience for Insight Vacations on PEI, Canada, travelers will get to experience Mi’kmaq culture through the eyes of their people.
“Abegweit First Nation is new to the tourism space and has been making major strides forward to develop authentic products and experiences that our community can be proud of. Prince Edward Island presents a robust tourism market, and Indigenous tourism is the fastest growing tourism sector in the country. The best relationships almost always stem from a genuine understanding of who Abegweit is as a community and who we are not. There is nothing better than seeing community members come together to put on an experience that showcases our rich culture. For those guests that are new Abegweit, we want them to take away a culturally rich and informative experience that not only highlights who the Mi’kmaw of Epekwtik were 10,000 years ago, but who we are today.” – Tyler Gould, Director of Economic Development, Abegweit First Nation
National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas itinerary in Rapid City, USA, offered by Trafalgar
This incredible itinerary supports the growth of Indigenous tribal tourism in the USA. Developed in collaboration between local communities in the Dakotas and Trafalgar, it offers a one-of-a-kind insight into Native American history and heart. Through the power of storytelling by passionate community members you’ll leave feeling enlightened by your visits to four reservations of the Dakotas, as well as National Parks and monuments to discover first-hand the stark and rich history, and future of the people who call it home. Packed with meaningful travel experiences that highlight the experience of Indigenous communities in the region, including TreadRight partner Lakota Youth Development, this itinerary supports the culture and heritage of our important Tribal Nations.
“My experience in tribal tourism development has taught me that the most effective relationships are based on meaningful collaboration and finding common goals to achieve together. Building strong relationships also has helped me in identifying and overcoming challenges such as community and leadership engagement. Through strong collaborative partnerships we continue to address other significant challenges like inadequate infrastructure and workforce development. It is the goal of our Tribal Tourism Development effort to revitalize Sicangu Culture, restore Lakota Language and preserve our cultural and natural resources. Our model is centered around Sicangu youth who will become our cultural heritage ambassadors and possess the capacity to educate visitors through well-designed training opportunities. We want our visitors to take-away a deep understanding and respect for our history, our present and ultimately OUR truth….the truth of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate.” – Sarah Kills In Water, Grant Writer, Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Owner and founder of Warrior Women, Matricia Bauer, works with her daughter Mackenzie to deliver educational Indigenous experiences to travelers based on their learnings as Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nations women, with the goal to pass their knowledge on to members of their community who have become disconnected from their culture due to modernization, and/or are discouraged from embracing their heritage in order to assimilate into Western society.
“When tourists travel through the Rocky Mountains there are several attractions, vistas, and things to do. Travelers that attend my events are specifically interested in what I do or have to say. So, being able to provide “space” in my heart and my time allows relationships to be formed, authentically. If colonization is defined as the lack of relationship, then decolonization is the creation of relationship, and tourism is the connector.
I think there is a unified perception of what an Indigenous person is. Sometimes that comes from western novels, or Hollywood. Indigenous people are very different all over turtle island, and my perspective is one of many perspectives, cultures and languages. I have to challenge those perceptions. I get to tell my story through my voice. Indigenous peoples have been underrepresented in tourism, at least in person, although our art is everywhere. Often Indigenous stories are shared, historically, inaccurately, or inappropriately. We are still here, practicing our customs, our stories and our languages.” – Matricia Bauer, Warrior Women
Artist Manuel Pamkal shares his passion for the rich traditional culture of the Northern Territory of Australia, into which he was born. Manuel, a Dalabon elder, welcomes visitors of Top Didj & Art Gallery near the town of Katherine, which is where the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Wardaman peoples converge – a significant meeting place for Aboriginal people throughout the generations. Hear about his life in the bush and learn first-hand the fine art of rarrk (cross-hatch) painting, Indigenous bush tucker, traditional bush medicines and didgeridoo custom.
“I love being involved in tourism as it is how I can share my culture with people from all over the world. Most people don’t know much about my culture and how we lived in the bush. Through tourism I can talk to people face-to-face and interact with the hands-on activities we have in our cultural experience. I show them how to paint a rarrk painting from the top end and then they paint their own. They get to light a fire with two sticks and throw a spear using a woomera. People get a better understanding of our culture after the experience with me – they have told me this which makes me happy. I love sharing my story. I encourage people to learn more about my culture by checking out our Dalabon YouTube channel. I love my job.” – Manuel Pamkal, Dalabon artist
Our incredible operations teams at The Travel Corporation are dedicated to building healthy and respectful relationships with organizations and individuals around the world, in order to collaborate on a shared mission to make travel matter. To get insights on their learnings, we spoke with Anina Grasso, Director of Travel Experiences Development at Destination America and Kirsten Bain, Vice President of Operations at Contiki, who were directly involved in developing some of the trips above.
Anina, tell us about how the National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas itinerary came to be.
Anina Grasso: After we had developed Trafalgar’s Southwest Native Trails, which visits Indigenous communities and places of significance in Arizona & New Mexico, we felt that there was another great opportunity to meet with the Indigenous communities in the Dakotas – a place of great historical significance when it comes to Native American history & cultures in the US. Both tourism boards from South & North Dakota are already actively supporting efforts from Indigenous communities to develop tribal tourism with special alliances that were created. When I approached them, they were absolutely engaged and arranged a weeklong trip where I traveled myself through South & North Dakota, visiting with Indigenous community members across the different reservations. Each of the communities I visited has at least 1 champion that is very engaged to build out meaningful tribal tourism and with that economic growth, jobs and opportunities for the communities.
Kirsten, tell us about how Contiki’s partnership with Warrior Women was formed.
Kirsten Bain: We connected with both the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) and Tourism Jasper last year to seek out new experiences for Contiki with a focus on Indigenous tourism and supporting local businesses. Warrior Women was recommended as one of the contacts to speak with and after watching YouTube videos of Matricia and Mackenzie (her daughter), it was an easy decision to (relentlessly) pursue Matricia. There was an immediate connection between what Warrior Women embodies and what Contiki looks for in a supportive partnership.
How do you approach new experiences with Indigenous communities, and what do you find effective?
AG: It is very important to point out that it is and should always be the community that develops the experience(s) and determines what the community wants to share and show – never the tour operator. The development of relationships always starts with a meeting and finding out about the story, the experiences, and infrastructure available for tourism. The next step is to then determine, based on our own program in terms of timing & budget, where and how there is an opportunity. Making connections with people face-to-face is crucial in order to build a dynamic, trustful relationship.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
KB: A great experience simply can’t cater to the number of trips we run in a year/season and we can’t find a way to modify it without losing the essence of the experience. The experience is led by one person who IS the experience and so if they are unavailable, the delivery is inconsistent. These are general challenges but with respect to Warrior Women, our biggest challenge was getting time with Matricia to discuss the partnership because she was a one-woman show throughout the pandemic and still working on shifting from a sole person experience to a brand experience.
What has been the most rewarding part of this process?
KB: The happy travelers who connect with the experiences in their own individual ways and the cultural gaps that are bridged through these connections – enlightenment is what they come away with. Also, Matricia’s openness to feedback and adapting to suit the younger demographic given most of her guests to date have been older than the average Contiki traveler.
AG: Meeting with the communities and learning about their culture and history and incredible resilience. Then stepping through the different stages of the development from giving guidance of what is required, to ultimately contracting experiences with the communities and seeing the program actually printed in the brochure – and knowing how meaningful and powerful this trip is. Trafalgar will be the first international tour operator that is supporting the tribal tourism in the Dakotas which helps the communities define their experiences, learn along the way how to facilitate groups and visitors and will put these incredible and authentic experiences on the map for other tour companies which will hopefully ultimately result in economic growth and equity for the communities.
What advice would you give travelers?
AG: I would advise travelers to do some pre-work and read up on some of the history as well as etiquette when visiting Indigenous communities. The Travel Director will of course give some insight prior to the visits as well. Once on the tour I advise being open and ready for an honest and authentic interaction where questions can be asked, and real connections can be built. There is so much to learn and experience.
KB: Keep an open mind and open heart; be curious.