By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Parks Canada and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) have agreed to renew their partnership. Representatives from the two parties signed a four-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) March 9 in Calgary at the ITAC conference titled “Building Back Better”.
Parks Canada and ITAC reps will work together to support, develop and market authentic Indigenous tourism experiences in locations administered by Parks Canada and in surrounding areas. The agreement runs through to the end of 2025.
“We know that Parks Canada works with hundreds of First Nations communities, primarily, and some Inuit communities and some Metis settlements,” said Keith Henry, ITAC’s president and CEO.
Michael Nadler, Parks Canada’s vice-president of external relations and visitor experience, said his agency is pleased to be making a small step in the long journey of reconciliation.
“It’s just a huge privilege to work with ITAC,” he said. “We signed our first MOU in 2016. It has been six years of partnership and collaboration, six years of successes, six years of challenges also. These last two years have not been easy for Parks Canada, ITAC or many of the businesses or organizations in this room.”
The Indigenous tourism industry across Canada has taken a severe beating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 400 delegates from Indigenous tourism business operators from across the country are attending this year’s three-day ITAC conference, which began Tuesday and continues until Thursday.
Nadler said Parks Canada is grateful to renew its partnership with ITAC and be a part of the association’s strategic plan also titled Building Back Better.
“Parks Canada works with hundreds of Indigenous businesses, communities, organizations and partners across the country. We know that reconciliation is a journey and we are absolutely committed to that journey,” Nadler said.
“We know it is not a destination,” he said. “But we also know that we have been granted the care and stewardship of 200 heritage places across the country.”
Prior to the pandemic Parks Canada was welcoming between upwards of 25 million visitors a year to its facilities.
“We’re hoping to regain that 25 million target in the coming three to four years,” Nadler said.
Every single future Parks Canada visit can advance understanding and reconciliation, he said.
“So, each visit can become one small act of reconciliation for one person in Canada or from locations around the world,” he said.
“Parks Canada recognizes that working in partnership with Indigenous peoples is critical to the protection of national historic sites, national parks, and national marine conservation areas and the sharing of the stories of these treasured places,” said Ron Hallman, the president and CEO of Parks Canada.
Hallman said his agency is committed to keep working with Indigenous groups so that Indigenous perspectives, cultures and traditions are shared not only with Canadians but with others from around the world.
“We are proud of the relationship that we’ve developed with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada over the past six years and look forward to continuing to collaborate with them to advance Indigenous tourism in Canada,” Hallman added.
Henry is hoping the renewed MOU with Parks Canada will translate into more positive results.
“What we’re trying to do with this relationship as we rebuild or building back better, is we want to just enhance these kinds of things,” Henry said. “How can we help Parks Canada and their teams continue to bring more Indigenous experiences to the marketplace?
How can we help them shape our understanding of Indigenous market readiness and export readiness? How do we jointly invest in these kinds of video assets and these tools?”
The new Parks Canada/ITAC MOU is expected to help support the recovery of the Indigenous tourism industry. The MOU will also assist Parks Canada officials to develop an Indigenous Stewardship Framework.
“We’re very excited to see this,” Henry said. “It’s time to get on with the work of building back better.”
Sam Laskaris is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the WINDSPEAKER.COM . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.