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Q&A: Defining Indigenous Tourism with Dené Sinclair

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Dené Sinclair is Anishinaabe and originally from Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada, as a part of the St. Peter’s Band and member of Peguis First Nation. A tourism marketing and communications veteran, she currently serves as the director of marketing for the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada (ATAC) and will be delivering a keynote address at AdventureELEVATE in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 12-13 April 2017. The presentation, Adventure’s Future with Indigenous Communities, will address how those working in the adventure travel industry can partner with Indigenous communities in an ethical, sustainable, and appropriate manner. Sinclair provided the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) with an insider’s perspective into why this is an important issue and what event delegates can expect to learn from her ELEVATE session.

dene-sinclairATTA: What are your primary goals as the marketing director of the ATAC?

Sinclair: ATAC is a new, nation-wide association, committed to growing and promoting a sustainable, authentic, culturally rich Aboriginal tourism industry across Canada. In my position, I am fortunate to spend my time learning about and sharing the stories of Aboriginal communities, entrepreneurs, and businesses who invite visitors to their territories. I am here to help – help people tell their stories, build regional and local strategies, assist with product development that will resonate with our key markets, uncover promotional opportunities, and build partnerships across other associations and with industry leaders.

ATTA: What does Indigenous tourism mean, and why is it important?  

Sinclair: ATAC has endorsed the following definitions specific to Indigenous tourism in Canada, as they resulted from extensive national consultation within the industry and with Elders and the community:

  • Aboriginal tourism: All tourism businesses majority owned, operated, and/ or controlled by First Nations, Métis, or Inuit peoples that can demonstrate a connection and responsibility to the local Aboriginal community and traditional territory where the operation resides.
  • Aboriginal cultural tourism: Meets the Aboriginal tourism criteria and, in addition, a significant portion of the experience incorporates Aboriginal culture in a manner that is appropriate, respectful, and true to the Aboriginal culture being portrayed. The authenticity is ensured through the active involvement of Aboriginal people in the development and delivery of the experience.
  • Aboriginal cultural experiences: Does not meet the Aboriginal tourism criteria however offers the visitor a cultural experience in a manner that is appropriate, respectful, and true to the Aboriginal culture being portrayed.

This is important for so many reasons. Indigenous tourism businesses are telling their own stories in their own voices, which have historically been silenced or unheard. Tourism can be an opportunity to preserve and celebrate culture, but also has the power to bring communities to the forefront of a Canadian narrative.

Beyond that, having a rich and vibrant Indigenous tourism industry is a competitive advantage for Canada. The global tourism marketplace demonstrates a significant demand for authentic, meaningful, and personal experiences, and that is what an Indigenous tourism experience can offer the visitor.

ATTA: Can you share an example of how indigenous tourism and adventure travel complement each other?

Sinclair: The ATTA’s research has shown that over the past 10 years, the definition of adventure travel has changed from being less about risk and physical effort to more about learning and transformation. While we offer many urban experiences across Canada, including cultural centers, restaurants, and hotels, we also have many outdoor and active experiences. Our ATAC members provide visitors the opportunity to learn about a new culture; meet and visit with locals; and explore destinations with an authentic interpretation, which is transformative, and tours that are active and empowering. We would like to see Indigenous adventure tourism experiences become one of the fastest growing segments of the adventure travel industry.

ATTA: What can delegates who attend your session, Adventure’s Future with Indigenous Communities, at AdventureELEVATE expect to learn?

Sinclair: I am excited to talk to the adventure industry about the things happening in our communities in Canada. I will present a framework that ATAC has developed and can be applied by anyone on how to responsibly work with Indigenous communities for promotion, development, and experience delivery. We will look at some examples of amazing experiences being delivered by Aboriginal businesses in Canada right now, and talk about some expectations of the U.S. consumer when it comes to Aboriginal tourism experiences.

ATTA: What is one actionable item those in the adventure travel trade can do today if they’re interested in collaborating with or working in the communities they visit? 

Sinclair: Find a way to make space for Indigenous communities to be represented, heard, and listened to. Be prepared to discuss real and tangible community benefits. Work in collaboration, and you will have a far more sustainable and authentic product or experience for your visitors.

Register for AdventureELEVATE today.

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