Indigenous tourism companies such as Talaysay and Moccasin Trails share culture and stories developed out of being on their traditional territories for thousands of years
Reconciliation, one guest at a time: Indigenous tourism grows by building relationships on the land
It’s a warm morning in late spring in Stanley Park when Candace Campo tells everyone in her tour group to look to the right at the western hemlock.
“The shoots are highly edible right now,” she says.
They are the light green ones at the end of the branches. It’s easy to follow her advice, pick off a few, and put them in your mouth.
At first, there is no taste. Within seconds, there’s an explosion of citrusy-piney flavour. It’s like tasting a bit of Stanley Park.
“It’s an amazing source of vitamin C,” Campo says.
Campo is leading a small group on one of the walking tours offered by her company, Talaysay Tours, just one of many land-based tourism companies that Indigenous people across B.C. have started in the past few decades.
Indigenous tourism companies are contributing toward reconciliation, one guest at a time.
The Talking Trees Tour that Campo leads is a 90-minute walk that starts at the bus loop and heads to nearby Beaver Lake. The tour frames Stanley Park from an Indigenous point of view.
Campo explains that the temperate rainforest of the coast is home to 122 different plants that the Coast Salish peoples used.
Earlier on the tour, she stopped at a Douglas fir where sap was running down its rough, uneven bark. The sticky, aromatic sap is used to treat burns, cuts and infections. It also treats gum disease such as gingivitis “like nobody’s business,” says Campo.
Traditionally, Indigenous people carved a hole into an ancient Douglas fir because they knew that the injured tree would send sap to that spot to heal itself. They also knew that they shouldn’t cut more than one hole in each tree to ensure it provided a sustainable harvest.
“You put a pot in and capture all the sap for your everyday use,” she said. “It was called pitch pot.”
The tour includes a welcome song by cultural ambassador Alfonso Salinas and a cup of traditional tea made from stinging nettle, dandelion leaf and raspberry leaf.
Most of the tour is about the practical uses of plants and trees, but some history puts it in context. Campo points out that successive smallpox epidemics reduced Indigenous populations by as much as 95 per cent after contact with Europeans in the mid-1700s.
Another Stanley Park tour by Talaysay is a 1.1-km walk of the seawall that explores the Indigenous history of Vancouver and Stanley Park and ends at the totem poles.
Later, Campo described Talaysay guides as cultural ambassadors who treat guests as if they are family and friends.
“In a small way, in a 90-minute experience, we share the history and the culture of our people. We believe that helps facilitate reconciliation,” she said. “We very much understand that these are our guests who are looking for a cultural experience. They are not attending a reconciliation workshop. They’re attending a tour.”
Paula Amos, chief marketing and development officer for Indigenous Tourism B.C., said such experiences educate visitors.
“We’re building relationships,” she said. “It’s a form of reconciliation. You’re learning more about your First Nations neighbours and the history of British Columbia.”
Founded in 1997, Indigenous Tourism B.C. is the main non-profit group dedicated to promoting a sustainable Indigenous tourism industry. Businesses represented by ITBC have to be at least 51 per cent Indigenous owned.
Amos said that during her 18 years with ITBC, Indigenous tourism has grown from a few cultural centres and three or four lodges to almost 100 market-ready businesses.
“When I say we have 100 that are market-ready, I mean those are businesses where you can have an Indigenous experience,” she said. “They’re in arts and culture, accommodation, resorts, cuisine, outdoor adventure, wildlife viewing. There are businesses in all the regions of the province.”
In Metro Vancouver, they include tour companies such as Talaysay and Takaya, which offers canoeing and kayaking. Other local ITBC members are Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, and the Musqueam Cultural Centre.
Elsewhere in B.C., Indigenous tourism businesses include Osoyoos-based Nk’Mip Cellars (the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America), Eagles Feast House in Haida Gwaii, and St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino in Cranbrook.
The top five markets for Indigenous tourism, ITBC statistics show, are Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, U.S. and China.
Amos said Indigenous tourism is doing more than building administrative and technical skills and creating jobs for Indigenous people.
“The other spinoffs are a younger generation that has pride in our culture when they share it,” Amos said. “They’re connecting with the elders because they have to go learn the culture. They’re getting out into the territories. We’re building a new generation of entrepreneurs.”
Campo is one of those new entrepreneurs. She started her tourism business at a time when she was working long hours shuffling paper as an administrator with the Shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation on the Sunshine Coast.
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One day, a local, non-Indigenous tour company asked her if she wanted to be a Sechelt cultural guide on kayaking tours. She said yes, but told them right away that she was going to start her own kayak business one day.
She made good on her promise. By 2004, she was giving multi-day kayak tours and had her own website.
Campo, trained as an anthropologist and school teacher, started giving tours in Stanley Park in 2016.
Talaysay tours, which run 11 months of the year and seven days a week during the summer, averages 60 to 80 guests per tour, but groups have been as large as 115.
Frank Antoine, another Indigenous tour operator and entrepreneur, believes that sharing “what you know” gives reconciliation meaning.
Since he co-founded Moccasin Trails last summer, Antoine has been offering walking tours of Coyote Rock, a landmark near Kamloops Lake, and canoe trips that include stops at the Secwepemc Museum and paddling into Tk’emlups (Kamloops).
The tours include traditional Shuswap stories and songs that have developed out of thousands of years of being connected to the land.
“What we offer is not just for guests from around the world,” Antoine said by phone from the Bonaparte First Nation’s traditional territory. “We want local people to get the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous history in Canada.”
Antoine, a former golf pro and cultural liaison at the Little Shuswap Indian Band’s Quaaout Lodge, sees himself as both part of and different from the tourism industry. For him, sharing his Indigenous culture isn’t a “product.”
“It’s a place,” he said. “You can’t sell your place. All you can do is share it. That’s a whole different concept.”
On June 21, Antoine will begin sharing another aspect of Secwepemc culture at the McAbee Fossil Beds, east of Cache Creek and west of Kamloops. Visible from Highway 1 and 97, the beds are known worldwide for fossils that started out as insects, plants and birds when they were deposited on a lake bed 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch.
In 2007, the provincial government closed the heritage site to the public. It is reopening on June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day. An elder and community member will be on site to share Indigenous stories about the fossils and the site’s cultural significance.
Eventually, Antoine wants to turn McAbee into one of the world’s top Indigenous tourism destinations.
“It’s on traditional territory and we definitely want to be the ones overlooking the site,” he said. “We just want 51 per cent. The other 49 per cent is the history that’s been in our area, the gold rush and settlers that came here.
“We definitely want to share our culture. It’s not them and us anymore. It’s we.”
Talaysay operating under the radar
While more people are becoming aware of Talaysay Tours through direct marketing and its website, its Indigenous tours of Stanley Park aren’t widely known as part of Vancouver’s tourism industry.
“I feel that we’re the best little secret,” said founder Candace Campo.
Talaysay doesn’t have any signs or brochures in Stanley Park, in part because Campo chose not to get official permission from the Vancouver park board to operate in the park.
Campo’s decision is based on the history of colonialism in B.C. Except for some historic treaties on Vancouver Island and northeastern B.C. and negotiations with the Nisga’a, the rest of the province was not ceded by treaty until some were negotiated through a modern treaty process started in 1993.
Stanley Park is among traditional territory never ceded by Indigenous people.
“It is a very strong political and personal conviction that we do not adhere to any external policies regarding how we use our land,” Campo said.
But she said she shares many common values with the park board and appreciates what it does in Stanley Park.
“We haven’t formalized the relationship with the Vancouver park board,” she said. “We’re anticipating in future that we will.”
Stuart Mackinnon, chair of the Vancouver park board, said everything that goes on in Stanley Park is vetted through the intergovernmental committee, a group with representatives of the city and park board, and the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh.
Any changes to the park, including any commercial ventures, go through this intergovernmental table.
“In regards to Talaysay Tours, we’d really love if they would get in touch with the park board so we could discuss this further,” he said.
Indigenous Tourism in B.C.
• 7,428 full-time equivalent jobs, of which an estimated 48 per cent were filled by Indigenous people.
• $705 million in direct gross domestic output (GDP).
• $244 million in direct wages and salaries.
• $20 million in taxes for federal, provincial and municipal governments.
Source: Indigenous Tourism B.C. ‘The Next Phase’ Strategy Performance Audit 2012-2017