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Indigenous peoples—for whom hunting, fishing, and gathering were once an everyday reality—have maintained a respectful connection with nature and continue to use their land-based resources wisely. Already pros of sustainable development, they are now applying it to the tourism industry through a number of initiatives.

Sustainable tourism conditions

According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism allows environmental resources to be exploited responsibly and biodiversity to be preserved. Respect for the sociocultural authenticity of host communities as well as the preservation of their cultural assets and traditional values are also integral parts of the spirit of sustainable tourism, which brings profitable economic activity to communities.

Naturally, like everywhere else, sustainable tourism in an Indigenous context needs to be culturally relevant. In addition to generating revenue for the community, any initiatives created must call on the active involvement of community members and include all generations.

Eeyou Istchee: One region’s sustainability goals

“Our ambition is for the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region to become a sustainable destination certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council,” explains Robin McGinley, executive director of the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA). Admittance to this international organization’s select club of members isn’t easy, but COTA plans on getting there. For over ten years, they’ve been working tirelessly on sustainable development issues!

COTA also produced a green technologies and best practices guide, along with promotional videos. Tourism promoters were then trained to help local businesses use these tools.

One more step toward International certification as a sustainable destination!

One success achieved from amongst other such initiatives in Québec is that of the Kinawit cultural site, located on the banks of Lemoine Lake. In 2012, the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre acquired a former Scout camp located on traditional Anicinabe territory. Initially created as a meeting place for Indigenous peoples looking to reconnect with traditional knowledge and spirituality, Kinawit today offers a “a unique, authentic tourism experience based on the traditional and contemporary skills of First Peoples.” The site also aims to promote cultural discovery, preservation, and promotion. Visitors to the site can sleep in a teepee or rustic cabin, explore the trails, or make a canoe. Above all, however, they can learn about Algonquin culture by participating in activities guided by members of the community. Traditional cultural events are also regularly organized for the community.

The “Essipit model”

The Innue Essipit community, located in Québec’s Côte-Nord, has developed a “very interesting model” in Indigenous sustainable tourism, states Caroline Desbiens, the Research Chair in native heritage and tourism at Université Laval. “The community chose to pursue development through tourism,” she explains. This means involving companies that have been part of the community for the past 35 years and privileging a community co-op system along with deep respect for natural resources.

First, Essipit bought a non-native company offering whale watching in inflatable boats, later adding campgrounds, chalets, and condo-hotels on the lakeshore, as well as six outfitters located inland. This recreational tourism offering enabled the economic spin-offs sought by the community in terms of both jobs and revenue. The integration of Indigenous culture was progressive, starting with offering experiences in nature that required the skills of locals (such as guides for hunting and fishing, cruises, hiking, bear-watching, etc.).

The “virtuous circle,” according to Desbiens, begins with control of the tourism project by Indigenous people, who then create activities highlighting their territory and promoting cultural reappropriation, turning tourism projects into pedagogical tools both for tourists and native guides and youth.

Ekuanitshit: The Innu lifestyle

The Innu Maison de la Culture of Ekuanitshit, in Mingan, also in Québec’s Côte-Nord, is another Indigenous tourism initiative established in a community engaged in sustainable development. The cultural centre was created by and for the community on the former site of a summer camp facing the Mingan Archipelago. Primarily a meeting place for sharing the culture and lifestyle of the Innu people, the Maison de la Culture promotes intercultural and intergenerational exchange both within the centre as well as outside, where a traditional site featuring a shaptuaan has been set up, along with a fire for baking bannock or cooking game.

Solar energy for Le relais de la Cache

A solar energy project has also been set up by Micmacs of Gesgapegiag: the Relais de la Cache reduced the use of fossil fuel from 80 to 90% thanks to solar panels!

Globally, the development of sustainable Indigenous initiatives is evident and can be felt across the entire tourism industry. In fact, Québec’s Ministry of Tourism recently shared a new sustainability plan. This would be the first time that a government tourism plan so clearly supports the actions necessary to establish a responsible and sustainable approach, focused more than ever before on the impacts tourism has on local communities and the importance of respecting the territory and those inhabiting it. Indigenous Tourism Quebec is proud to have been involved in the conversation regarding this new action plan!