Indigenous tourism conference

Guest speakers at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference on Thursday in Kelowna included, from left, Frank Antoine of Moccasin Trails, B.C. Tourism Minister Lisa Beare, Indigenous Tourism B.C. chair Brenda Baptiste and Trevor Cootes of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation.

They are two of the globe’s hottest travel trends — Indigenous tourism and wine touring.

And Shuswap Nation member Frank Antoine is combining them for a powerhouse Okanagan offering.

“The key is having local, Indigenous guides who are great storytellers,” said Antoine, the owner of Moccasin Trails.

“Our Water to Wine tours run in both Kamloops and Kelowna, and include paddling in a 12- or 16-passenger Clipper Aboriginal-design canoe and then a tasting at a winery.”

After paddling on the Thompson River, tourists drop in to either Monte Creek or Harper’s Trail wineries in Kamloops.

Okanagan Lake paddlers end up at Indigenous World Winery in West Kelowna for their tasting.

Indigenous World Winery’s owner is businessman, lawyer and former Westbank First Nation chief Robert Louie.

Moccasin Trails also offers guided hikes with an Aboriginal twist and jaw-dropping views.

“Indigenous tourism has come a long way from tourists just wanting to see a powwow,” said Antoine, who is also chair of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and co-chair of Indigenous Tourism B.C.

“Tourists want to see, hear, smell, taste and touch authentic Indigenous culture. As such, there are vast opportunities to shelter, feed and entertain tourists who want to connect to Indigenous values of honouring the land, wildlife and people.”

Antoine was one of the panellists who spoke about the importance of partnerships at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference on Thursday at the Delta Grand hotel in Kelowna.

It’s the largest conference of its kind in the world, and the Okanagan is taking the opportunity to tout its own Aboriginal tourism and learn from Indigenous tourism leaders and operators from around the world who are attending.

“Travel is transformational, and people want to become part of something bigger when they go someplace new,” said one of the other panellists, Brenda Baptiste.

“That aligns perfectly with Indigenous values of connecting with the land and all other living things.”

Baptiste, a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band and chair of Indigenous Tourism B.C., said Aboriginal tourism has not only provided employment for natives, but has served to revitalize Indigenous culture.

“This type of transformation is not just happening in Indigenous tourism, but all tourism. It’s the future of the world,” said Baptiste.

“It’s about more than economics. It’s about reconciliation and moving forward.”

Baptiste also said that with 200 bands and sea-to-mountain-to-valley scenery, B.C. has the most diverse and beautiful Indigenous tourism in the world.

Panellist Trevor Cootes, a member of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation from the west coast of Vancouver Island and an Indigenous Tourism B.C. director, spoke of the logistics of nurturing Aboriginal businesses.

“We can all act as pathfinders to help Indigenous tourism companies succeed with funding, training, mentorship and partnering with local tourism associations,” he said.

“The goal is going global and attracting international tourists to B.C.”

Provincial Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Lisa Beare was also at the conference to sign the Indigenous Tourism Accord.

The accord will see the B.C. government and Indigenous Tourism B.C. partner to offer skills development, showcase Aboriginal culture, improve co-operation with provincial ministries and encourage collaboration between Indigenous and non-native tourism operators.

The conference also saw the Indigenous Culinary Tourism Strategy launched, Indigeno Travel become the travel agency of choice for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and WestJet come on board as the official airline of the International Indigenous Tourism Conference.

Pledge signed

The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association took advantage of B.C. Tourism Minister Lisa Beare being in town for the International Indigenous Tourism Conference to sign a regional pledge.

The pledge was also signed by association president Glenn Mandziuk, Destination B.C. CEO Marsha Walden and Indigenous Tourism B.C. chair Brenda Baptiste.

While the Seven Affirmations for Seven Generations pledge is for the whole of the tourism industry, it nicely meshes with the goals of Indigenous tourism. The pledge’s seven platforms are true roots, tread lightly, be a good neighbour, travel safely, live in harmony, choose local and educate others.