June 20th, 2024

Indigenous tourism expanding in southern Alberta, says ITA

By Troy Bannerman - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 30, 2022.

Herald file photo Iby Crosschild displays a variety of creations including mocassins, medicine bags, necklaces and headbands at the Indigenous Artisans Christmas Market earlier this month at the Lethbridge Public Library. Indigenous Tourism Alberta says they are optimistic about the industry, including developments such as artisan markets in the southern region of the province.

Coming up next week, Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA) will be hosted by the Enoch Cree Nation for its fourth annual conference at the River Cree Resort and Casino Inn.

At the conference Dec. 5-7, the ITA will be launching a new brand to help their member’s companies be recognized.

“(It’s) a really great opportunity to just bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous industry to built connections and relationships with each other, and also with our Indigenous tourism membership, our individuals looking to get into the tourism space to come and learn from professionals from across the country, throughout various keynote sessions and break out sessions and ultimately celebrate the resiliency and growth of the Indigenous tourism sector across the province,” said Shae Bird, CEO of ITA. “So last year we had this incredible event sold out, we are also sold out again this year. And it’s just a really great couple days of learning, networking, relationship building, and celebration for the Indigenous tourism sector here in Alberta.”

Bird is very optimistic about future growth of the Indigenous tourism industry in Alberta.

“Alberta right now is positioned in a pretty strong way for recovering our Indigenous tourism sector and also growing the sector. And most recently we had National Geographic name Indigenous tourism in Alberta one of the top 23 destinations to experience in 2023, and also the only Canadian destination to be on that list. So, right now we have some pretty strong momentum for the growth of the sector in Alberta, and the appetite from both domestic and international consumers to learn more and experience more authentic Indigenous tourism here in our province.”

Speaking specifically to what is happening in Lethbridge and southern Alberta, Bird noted “we are seeing some really cool things develop in the southern region. Specifically Blackfoot Confederacy, and the Blackfoot Nations within it are doing some really cool development stuff in terms of building out more of a confederacy tourism plan. Which is really exciting.”

Bird expanded on some of the tourism offerings currently available in the southern reaches of the province.

“We have some other businesses, like Napi’s Garden is an ecotourism experience that has really grown. Kainai, their artisan markets as well, and we have businesses like Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp, and Spotted Eagle Contracting that are up and running and developing either overnight tipi experiences or cultural driving tours and these types of things. So, we’ve seen the development of these businesses grow pretty impressively over the past couple of years and I’m hoping that we can continue to provide the tool to support these businesses and communities and ultimately the region in the south to mature these businesses and get them to a point where we can ultimately market them both to domestic and international markets.”

An important part of these conferences and the ITA is to foster relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations. He describes the current non-Indigenous business market as hungry for Indigenous inclusion.

“We work closely with Tourism Lethbridge and the [City of Lethbridge] down there. We work closely with Tourism Calgary, WWC Airport, and a lot of the organizations for the smaller municipalities. You know, every destination or region, whether its municipal or private business in the tourism sector, everyone is on kind of different journeys and has progressed within that journey of reconciliation and partnership at different rates, but we are definitely seeing a lot more appetite for our non-Indigenous partners on looking to understand better and understand more and look to create those reciprocal relationships and ultimately support that Indigenous tourism sector that is just so important to that southern region.”

In speaking about the upcoming conference, Bird is very enthusiastic about the launching of the new ITA brand and the quality of the speakers and facilitators who are scheduled to be there.

“You know, we have some really great keynotes, and some really great breakout sessions, we have some new partnership announcements, and also we are launching our brand new brand. So, the past ten months or so our marketing team has been working throughout various engagement with our membership to really create a bit of a brand identity for ITA to support our consumers and allow for our membership to really see themselves in the brand of Indigenous Tourism Alberta because we are a fairly new organization. This is only our fourth operating fiscal year. So, we haven’t had the resources or the capacity to really build that brand out, but we’ve been working very diligently with our marketing team and our membership to create what is that new ITA brand. And we will be launching that at the conference, which we are very excited about.”

A lot of effort has gone into the planning and the organizing of the event. For the full schedule and a list of speakers visit: https://indigenoustourismalberta.ca/industry/ita-gathering/

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