A Powerful Statement

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) supported the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on March 31 by closing their week-long historic meeting with Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, with a powerful dance performance, and a strong message regarding the role of tourism and reconciliation.

The performance was created to showcase the strength, resilience and pride of Indigenous Peoples to the world. It also provided a glimpse into the culture and tourism experiences that supporters can take part in to learn about the impact of residential schools in order to better support decolonization efforts.

Keith Henry, president of ITAC, said: “Our delegation of dancers want to show to the world that our culture is alive and continues to thrive. This is what Indigenous tourism has always meant to me. By helping the world understand why reconciliation is so important for our communities, how supporting Indigenous-owned businesses across Canada truly makes a difference and by providing Indigenous Peoples with a platform to proudly showcase their culture and tell their stories, we can work to build a better future for all Peoples.”

ITAC prepared a program grounded by the vision of Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, AFN portfolio holder for this mission. The program, guided by Antoine’s concept of family, connection, resistance, strength, survival and celebration, demonstrated the resiliency and diversity of Indigenous cultures from coast to coast.

Through cultural revitalization, ITAC continues to support and market a number of Indigenous tourism businesses built on the sites of former residential schools in Canada. One example is the Indigenous-owned St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino, which transformed a former residential school site into a colourful cultural attraction. Today, St. Eugene Resort embeds stories of residential schools into its programming, teaching visitors about the complex history and continued resiliency of Indigenous Peoples.

Said Henry: “We invite visitors from near and far to understand the horrors experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada over the past four centuries, particularly from the early 1800s to 1996. We hope that by listening to survivors, and experiencing these sites, visitors can support our decolonization efforts and lift Indigenous voices.”

The AFN called on Pope Francis this week to issue an acknowledgement by the Roman Catholic Church for its role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual violence of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools in Canada.

ITAC’s president continued: “The hard and painful work AFN did in regard to this visit was very important, and ITAC continues to support AFN and increase public awareness of the need for reconciliation as a result of historical wrongs.”

For more information or to learn more about Indigenous experiences in Canada supporting reconciliation efforts, visit www.DestinationIndigenous.ca/Reconciliation.