When I think about what it means to be Canadian in the 21st century, I hope for two things:
1) For members of the Indigenous community to be accepting if my non-Indigenous son were to express his pride in being Canadian.
2) For enough progress to have been made that the Indigenous people in Canada can acknowledge they feel healed.
If those breakthroughs materialize, tourism will play a role. In 2021, interest in Indigenous issues was higher than ever, largely because of some of the grimmest news to hit Canada. The uncovering of 215 children’s bodies near a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, followed by similar findings elsewhere in the country, shook the nation. Instinctively, many Canadians wanted to find ways to express their allyship with Indigenous communities. Local marches and public gatherings facilitated that outlet in the spring and summer. Going forward, travel provides the chance to extend the goodwill.
Participating in the Indigenous experiences across the country is among the most rewarding ways to show you are concerned and interested. Not only will your tourism dollars remain with domestic operators, your openness to learn more will help accelerate reconciliation efforts. More advocacy can be taken in the coming year as the pandemic wanes and Canadians and visitors to the country begin to roam through the provinces and territories.
Indigenous tourism is everywhere, from major cities to rural and coastal areas where culture and heritage have sustained for generations. Yet, those experiences and their communities have not received enough attention from travellers. In 2019, the last year not affected by the COVID-19 health crisis, Canada’s tourism industry generated $104 billion, but less than 2% of that total was spent on Indigenous tourism. Improving that statistic is one of the motivations for devoting the Vacay.ca ranking of the “20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2022” to Indigenous-focused experiences and destinations. Our editorial team acknowledged that the sector is not only fast-growing but deserving of visitation. While enjoying their holiday escapes, non-Indigenous Canadians can return home with a better understanding of the issues of yesterday and today,
My knowledge of Indigenous cultures and its citizens was shallow for more than half my life. In high school, I knew one First Nations classmate. He started Grade 9 sitting at the back of the class, acting clownish between episodes of brooding and cantankerousness that earned callouts from the teacher and walks to the principal’s office. He was a large kid and his stomps down the hall were uncomfortable to listen to and the clanging of lockers as he made his way to punishment in retrospect could have been a shout for help — a sad anecdote among generations of them. The Christmas break came and Tony never returned.
I continued to learn about colonial history and observe Christian occasions through the remainder of high school in southern Ontario. At the time, the only Indigenous people I was exposed to had come from the stories of my favourite adolescent author, W.P. Kinsella, whose “Fencepost Chronicles” is a collection of short stories filled with characters from the Canadian prairies, including stereotypes of medicine men and reservation life. I didn’t visit a First Nations reserve until I was 16, prompted by an uncle from England who was more curious about Indigenous culture than any Canadian I knew. He encouraged us to venture to the Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation near Brantford, Ontario, where children around my age dressed in regalia and performed a ceremony looking at us like we were alien, which I suspect is how our faces seemed to them.
It wasn’t until I was welcomed to Wendake near Quebec City in 2013 that I realized how far Indigenous tourism had grown and what a profound difference it can make to communities economically and psychologically to know visitors want to experience what their culture offers. The Huron-Wendat Nation has built a tourism ecosystem that showcases their heritage and provides luxury refinements that will please any traveller. Its hotel has maintained a four-star status since it debuted and its culinary program is distinct, focusing on pre-colonial recipes that rely on the bounty of local products, such as Atlantic salmon and shellfish. Attractions include a landmark longhouse that is a tangible connection with the past.
Wendake is an exceptionally worthy choice as the No. 1 destination on the Vacay.ca rankings of leading Indigenous experiences to visit in Canada. More than that, Wendake, and every other destination on the list, is uplifting. A stark contrast to so much of the heart-sinking depictions we absorb about Indigenous life in Canada.
When the news of the Kamloops residential school graves was released, there was nationwide grieving. For anyone wanting to do more and perhaps not knowing how, the time is now for connecting with Indigenous people who are eager to share their art, food, culture, stories, and soul.