An Indigenous Approach to Eco-Toursim on the Northwest Coast
An eco-tourism initiative is being undertaken on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation (Campbell River, British Columbia). The Homalco offer cultural tours and bear tours at Orford Bay (a seasonal Homalco resource site on the mainland coast). The tours are centered around international interest in First Nations cultures and in viewing wild grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in their natural habitat. To ensure a rich and informative experience for tourists, the training of 15 members of the Homalco Nation as eco-tourism guides was initiated in 2015 with a workshop that introduced them to concepts of plant species identification, ethnobotany and traditional ecological knowledge. This initial workshop was followed in 2016 by an intensive 7-day certificate course, entitled “Rediscovering Traditions of the Homalco First Nation” offered through the University of Victoria. A follow-up 7-day course was taken by the tour guides in 2017 to refresh and refine their skills. The overall goals of the courses were to teach guides to learn to identify plant species traditionally important to their Nation and learn about grizzly bear use of different habitats, so they can confidently and accurately impart this information to tourists. Completion of the courses is encouraged in order to work as a tour guide.
With the population of the Homalco First Nation now residing in a semi-urban location and dependent on a cash economy, members of the current generation are often isolated from their cultural traditions as they spend less time on the land. With integration in the broader modern milieu and the passing of elders, the revival of traditional ecological knowledge has benefited from information sharing by academics and biologists, who drew upon archival and scientific sources.
Fourteen of the guides successfully completed the intensive training offered in 2016 and 2017 and now work as knowledgeable eco-tourist guides at Orford Bay. In addition to preparing them for their work as tour guides, it is hoped that through these ongoing educational opportunities, some may be inspired to continue to confidently pursue further post-secondary education.
Combined with the adventure of small-boat travel to a remote wilderness location, this enriched holistic approach to interpreting the eco-cultural landscape provides a rich and robust educational experience for both clients and guides, and is helping with the cultural revitalization of the Homalco First Nation.