“The recent schools controversy is the latest indication of how there is a lot more that travel companies could do in educating people on problems faced by Indigenous people,” says Carmel Hendry. “Their cultures become more present while traveling from Calgary to Vancouver and so that gives our guides the chance to discuss the issues and spark conversation among the group.”
When it comes to the conservation of wilderness areas, there is an opportunity to make mutual respect more tangible. Canada’s Indigenous peoples, including the First Nations groups, the Inuit of the Arctic regions and the Métis, have sustainably stewarded the land for hundreds of generations, but for a long time Canadian attitudes to conservation essentially meant dispossessing them of the sites that were sacred to their ancestors.
Since the late 20th century, the Canadian government has acknowledged that its polices of enforced assimilation towards the Indigenous peoples, their removal from traditional tribal lands, and loss of rights were unjust, and started on a process of ‘truth and reconciliation’. This is a concept that has come under some criticism for its vagueness, but as the appalling abuses uncovered in the residential schools scandal
demonstrate, truth, reconciliation and greater respect are long overdue.
There is also a view that reconciliation can go hand in hand with conservation
. After all, there are some 700 unique Indigenous communities in Canada, many of them living in wilderness areas, and already monitoring and maintaining how ecosystems are performing.
Breanne Quesnel, co-founder of our partner Spirit of the West Adventures, explains how their vacations allow Indigenous voices and perspectives to be heard: “We try to hire Indigenous team members and encourage these team members to help be a bridge between cultures. We have also created some in-house resources to help our non-Indigenous team members provide guests with context about whose land we are traveling on, some of the history and present-day Indigenous use of these areas.”
Responsible wilderness vacations in Canada, while focused on wildlife and active experiences such as kayaking and hiking, don’t duck the presence of these communities. Instead, they seek out opportunities to raise awareness of Indigenous history and culture as they go, whether that’s discussing place names, totems and traditional rituals such as ‘pot latching’ feast days, or touring cultural centers like Lil’wat in Whistler with a guide of Indigenous heritage.