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Research and Innovation


Sustainable tourism a boon to Indigenous communities


The Great Spirit Circle Trail of Manitoulin Island hosted by the Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi peoples is an example of successful Indigenous tourism in Ontario. (Photo courtesy the Great Spirit Circle Trail).

Canada’s Indigenous peoples have much to offer on the tourism front, and professor of Hospitality and Tourism, Sonya Graci, is hoping to illustrate how they can most effectively establish sustainable and successful community-based tourism.

Sonya is working to collect and share best practices for Indigenous tourism by studying successful models from around the world. She defines Indigenous tourism as owned and operated by Indigenous peoples within their communities, incorporating Indigenous culture in a respectful and appropriate manner.

Her research has examined tourism in Indigenous communities in Peru, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and here in Canada.

“We have an incredible opportunity to promote Indigenous tourism and support communities in developing a sustainable livelihood approach that not only benefits the community economically but socially and environmentally, which is very much in line with the traditional values of Indigenous peoples,” said Sonya.

For example, in Moose Factory, Ontario, the community created a project called the Cree Village Ecolodge, which not only became a source of revenue for the community but also a central meeting space where Indigenous peoples gather and celebrate.

Her research has shown that a recipe for success includes businesses that demonstrate the following:

  • Based and supported within the community
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Offering authentic experiences
  • Resonating with the community
  • Fostering youth engagement and entrepreneurship
  • Ecologically sustainable

One of the successful examples of Indigenous tourism in Ontario is the Great Spirit Circle Trail of Manitoulin Island hosted by the Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi peoples. Their authentic experiences include medicine walks, tea sampling, canoe tours, and traditional crafts, among other offerings. The project brings together several different First Nations, sharing resources to create opportunities and economic benefit for their communities.

Through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Connection Grant, Sonya hosted a symposium on the subject earlier this year and is now creating an online portal where Indigenous communities can share their experiences and build sustainable tourism. Currently, the content is mainly Canadian, but she hopes that contributors from around the world will help build the content and create a repository where all Indigenous communities can learn best practices to support each other in creating economic opportunity.

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Sylvia Kavanagh
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