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Cultural travel: See wildlife, forage food and more on Indigenous-led experiences

Peak travel season has arrived, with Canadians excited to plan their vacations and make the most of summer. After two years of restrictions, a clockwork routine and a lack of new experiences, Canadians may be looking to skip the tried-and-true spots in favour of unique travel experiences that leave them feeling inspired and transformed.

Indigenous-led tourism offers just that: once-in-a-lifetime adventures that focus on active and authentic cultural experiences from an Indigenous lens.

This means that on a wildlife tour, you’re not passively waiting to be shown animals but instead, you’re being taught how to look for them, what the animals provide for the people on the land, traditional food preparations and more.

READ MORE: What’s behind the growing interest in Indigenous-led tourism in Canada?

Some companies may market Indigenous-type experiences, but are not Indigenous-led or don’t support those communities. To support Indigenous culture and communities, travellers can visit Destination Indigenous, where the companies are vetted through the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) to ensure the business is 51 per cent Indigenous-owned and provides authentic First Nation, Métis and/or Inuit experiences.

In partnership with ITAC, we look at how to find great Indigenous-led travel experiences across the country and what to expect, from spotting wildlife to learning Indigenous traditions.

Destination Indigenous shares hundreds of diverse experiences and destinations across Canada to choose from, like Klahoose Wilderness Resort, an off-the-grid, all-inclusive resort on the west coast. There, guests can take wildlife tours with Indigenous guides who share their wisdom and traditions with visitors.

“What they will experience is, first of all, the wilderness of Desolation Sound — rainforests and wildlife, including whales, humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, seals and grizzly bears… but more importantly, what guests will really experience is an Indigenous culture,” says Chris Tait, tourism manager at Klahoose Wilderness Resort.

Cultural travel: See wildlife, forage food and more on Indigenous-led experiences - image
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada

A three-day stay at Klahoose may include multiple grizzly bear viewing tours, rainforest walks, pulling up prawn traps, kayaking, ocean swimming, evening storytelling, campfires at night and learning about the Klahoose People from cultural interpreters, all against a scenic ocean backdrop south of the Great Bear Rainforest and Toba Inlet.

On the east coast, Gros Morne Adventures takes visitors into the heart of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Owner Kristen Hickey and her team offer guided hikes to scenic lookouts, kayak tours of Bonne Bay and excursions to learn about Mi’kmaq Traditional Knowledge as well as hunting and gathering techniques.

Many Indigenous-led travel experiences involve getting to know the lands and Indigenous way of life.

“It’s mostly the culture and teaching people how we live within our environment and with the wildlife,” says Kylik Kisoun-Taylor, owner of Tundra North Tours, an Invialuit company based in Inuvik that offers cultural tours in the Arctic with the aim of reconnecting visitors with the land, and teaching about local culture, language, food, housing, beliefs and livelihood.

A summer excursion with Tundra North Tours may include a boat tour through the MacKenzie River and its water systems, learning about the local wildlife — such as waterfowl, beavers, muskrats and moose — and the history of the river, as well as how the people use it to survive.

Some of the company’s boat tours stop at the village of Aklavik, where visitors can learn about traditional fishing practices and northern farming, and how to smoke fish and forage.

In the winter, travellers can sign up to snowmobile to see a herd of more than 3,000 reindeer. “Just getting out onto the land to see something as amazing as 3,000 animals moving in unison together as we herd them is a very magical experience for anybody,” Kisoun-Taylor says.

He adds that Indigenous-led experiences sometimes come at a higher price point than other tours — but with just cause. “The reality is that our overheads are much higher because we’re having to invest into our culture, into our community, into our people to get them to a point where they can actually be comfortable sharing their culture,” Kisoun-Taylor says.

Tait says investing in Indigenous-led tourism is a kind of regenerative travel. By supporting Indigenous businesses, tourists are supporting jobs for the people who live in the regions they’re visiting, cultural education and tourism development. It’s essentially reconciliation in action.

“We’re trying to show people that smaller, locally owned businesses that have a large impact in their community… is more sustainable and more positive to the people that live in that region,” Kisoun-Taylor says.

READ MORE: Planning a vacation close to home? This group wants to help you find authentic experiences

To learn more about Indigenous-led travel experiences or to find inspiration for your next trip, visit DestinationIndigenous.ca.

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