Indigenous Tourism in Saskatchewan: Explore, Discover, Learn

Photo provided by Aski Holistic Adventures

In the fall of 2022, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Tourism Saskatchewan partnered to create Indigenous Destinations Saskatchewan, an “incubator” for new and established Indigenous entrepreneurs and tourism professionals. “Indigenous Destinations of Saskatchewan was founded to showcase all of the incredible Indigenous tourism experiences around the province and to foster the growth of new entrepreneurs as well,” explains Andrew McDonald, director of marketing and communications with Wanuskewin Heritage Park. “The demand is there, the infrastructure is built, now is the time to invest.”

And what a demand it is. People from around the globe are seeking authentic cultural experiences that are sustainable and educational. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous tourism generated $106 million to the provincial GDP in 2019. There are approximately 2,000 jobs associated with more than 100 Indigenous owned and operated tourism businesses in Saskatchewan.

The growth of Indigenous tourism expands economic opportunity for Indigenous people and cultivates reconciliation between First Nation communities and settlers. It is a transformative industry with the power to change perspectives and maintain and preserve culture, languages, and communities. Michela Carrière is the owner-operator of Aski Holistic Adventures based in Cumberland House and is a member of Indigenous Destinations Saskatchewan. Her company is relatively new, but tourism is rooted in her family. “My ancestors were Cree river guides, my grandparents were hunting guides, and my parents run Big Eddy Lodge, a hunting adventure business,” she explains. “Since I was a kid, I have been helping out, hosting visitors from all over the world. It was natural that I start my own adventure guiding business.”

Aski Holistic Adventures focuses on canoe and snowshoe expeditions in the Saskatchewan River delta. “I show travelers the living history of Cree people and my family, knowledge such as herbal medicines, fishing, wilderness living and trapping,” Carrière explains. “It’s a full experience, from rustic cabin lodging, guided adventures, learning skills, herbal medicine, home cooked meals and relaxing with a sauna. This place is my home. This knowledge comes from a lifetime here and from generations of ancestors in this land.”

Photo provided by Aski Holistic Adventures

McDonald says, “Since the pandemic has waned somewhat, consumers are looking to share experiences that are connective, immersive, and meaningful–all of the things that Indigenous tourism is. Tourism is an educator and an eliminator of biases.” Carrière agrees, noting that “people are hungry for Indigenous knowledge. They want to travel, but they want to learn more than anything. Whether that’s canoeing, harvesting plants, making pottery, bow hunting, birding, building trapper cabins—there is so much knowledge I have to share!”

The diversity of Indigenous tourism throughout Saskatchewan means there is something out there for everyone to enjoy. Wanuskewin Heritage Park is one of the major attractions in the province, soon to be recognized internationally with a UNESCO World Heritage designation.

Kichiota Indigenous Destinations, created from a partnership between Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Wanuskewin and Beardy’s/Okemasis Cree Nation, brings alive a corridor of cultural and multi-day experiences to local and international tourists. The creation of Indigenous Destinations Saskatchewan means independent and newly established businesses, such as Aski Holistic Adventures, can network and share cultural knowledge with other Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs, all while working towards growing a diverse and sustainable industry.

Photo provided by Aski Holistic Adventures

McDonald is optimistic about the future of Indigenous tourism in Saskatchewan, noting that the organic demand from the consumer level is a powerful driver. “Customers are asking the right questions: ‘Where do my tourism dollars go?’; ‘How does this help to positively impact the community?’; ‘How is this experience culturally authentic?’ More and more consumers want to know that they are supporting Indigenous organizations or entrepreneurs. Saskatchewan has the opportunity to establish ourselves as a global destination for Indigenous tourism in the world. Support of these businesses is critical, either through funding and investment or patronage and promotion. We have what the world wants, and we are hearing it from consumers around the globe.”

Carrière supports increased promotion of Saskatchewan’s rich Indigenous tourism industry. “I want to see Saskatchewan branded as the place to come for new experiences!” she grins. As a young business in a remote area, there are challenges to pace of expansion, but Carrière is working towards adding more land-based excursions to the Aski Holistic Adventures roster, as well as expanding her team of knowledge keepers, from cooks to guides, grounds people to booking agents.

With a large percentage of tourists practicing what McDonald terms “revenge tourism”–purposeful travel and exploration emerging from a post-pandemic climate–it is anticipated Saskatchewan’s Indigenous tourism industry will continue to welcome new guests and expand on the possibilities for education and adventure through Indigenous cultural heritage.