Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours has been running grizzly bear tours in the Bute Inlet in traditional Xwémalhkwu territory, located in the central coast region of British Columbia, for over a decade. The Canadian Geographic author, Karen Gardiner, explains that with its newly launched People, Water, Land Tour, the Indigenous-owned ecotourism company invites guests to connect with the territory through the history and culture of the people who have stewarded the lands and waters of the region since time immemorial.
Gardiner went on the People, Water, Land Tour in June 2019 with guide Cheyenne Hacket from Homalco Nation. “Over the course of around eight hours, the history and culture of the Homalco unfold as Hackett takes me to see ancient petroglyphs, teaches me to weave a bracelet from cedar bark, and recites traditional stories,” remarks Gardiner. “It feels like an added bonus that I also spot a black bear and cub, humpback whales and dolphins en route.”
Meanwhile, the tour’s description on the Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours website informs participants that, “The water and land of Bute Inlet provided the Homalco with transportation, food, shelter, medicine and more. Legends were born here and Homalco stories became interwoven with characters representing the creatures with whom they shared the earth and sea,” thus highlighting the inextricable connection between land, water, and culture that is showcased throughout the tour.
Besides creating an opportunity for visitors to experience Homalco culture, the addition of the People, Water, Land Tour has also allowed the company to expand its operations to five months a year—beyond the limited, late-summer to early-fall grizzly bear sighting season—thus bolstering economic and cultural healing opportunities for Homalco people.
“Homalco Nation hires members to be tour guides, immersing them first in a training program that includes language, song and story and learning traditional ways of life from Elders,” explains Gardiner. “It has become something bigger than a tour business: a way to reintroduce Homalco youth to their cultural heritage.”
It has become something bigger than a tour business: a way to reintroduce Homalco youth to their cultural heritage.
Gardiner goes on to explain how the longer tour season translates into more sustainable employment for local staff. “[…] This year the company hosted an eight-week-long Indigenous tour guide training program as an effort to not only welcome new guides into the business, but also provide them with the skills to look for work beyond the Nation,” writes Gardiner.
In November 2019, Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours was recognized with the Exceptional Outdoor Cultural Experiences award at the eighth annual International Indigenous Tourism Conference. The company’s growing success is but one example of a thriving Indigenous tourism industry in Canada. In fact, Indigenous tourism is the fastest-growing sector in Canadian tourism, as a steadily increasing number of people seek out Indigenous-led tourism experiences.
“Indigenous tourism, done on Indigenous peoples’ own terms, […] can also be a way of preserving culture while earning a living,” concludes Gardiner. “It can serve both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, strengthening connections between them while also educating visitors and providing the transformative, sustainable experiences—like those offered by Homalco Tours—that today’s travellers crave.”
LEARN MORE about how Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours grew into a world-class, First Nations-owned ecotourism business.
Between 2009 – 2015, Coast Economic Development Society approved four projects totaling $735,100 and Coast Conservation Endowment Fund Foundation approved one project of $70,000 towards the development and expansion of Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours.
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