A visit to Manitoba means travelling through Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Territories and communities that are signatories to Treaties 6 and 10, the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Anish-Ininiwak, Dakota, Dene, Ininiwak and Nehethowuk and the homeland of the Métis. Manitoba’s ongoing existence is thanks to these ancestors and their present-day relatives who continue to love and care for the land.
Indigenous culture isn’t just a part of Manitoba’s past. It is a part of nearly every experience found in the province.
Outdoor adventures like paddling, fishing, hiking and hunting follow the ancient paths of Manitoba’s original inhabitants, while powwows and other cultural events highlight the vibrant traditions that continue today.
In Winnipeg, one can learn about the history of Manitoba’s Métis founder Louis Riel, or dine at a restaurant inspired by traditional Indigenous fare. Outside the capital, Whiteshell Provincial Park is home to the centuries-old cultural site of the Bannock Petroforms, and visitors to Buffalo Point Resort in the southeastern corner of Lake of the Woods can visit art and interpretive displays that tell stories of Indigenous life as far back as the 1700s. These are just a few of the many Indigenous tourism experiences you can have in Manitoba.
“Manitoba has a strong, resilient Indigenous culture”, says Keith Henry, President and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). “This strength will be the foundation for the recovery and growth of authentic Indigenous tourism experiences.”
In 2017, Travel Manitoba and ITAC established a 3-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to foster the growth of the Indigenous tourism sector in the province. The MOU established the foundation for partnerships with other organizations interested in advancing economic development and tourism growth to support businesses and communities throughout Manitoba. Through regional engagement sessions and with direction from the Manitoba Indigenous Tourism Advisory Committee, the Manitoba Indigenous Tourism Strategy was developed and launched in 2019.
In April 2021, the MOU was renewed and will be in effect for three years ending on March 31, 2024. Travel Manitoba has committed $500,000 in funding in support of the strategy over the three year period.
The renewed MOU also includes the newly formed Indigenous tourism association—Indigenous Tourism Manitoba (ITM)—as a strategic partner and signatory.
The goals of the strategy focus on leadership and collaboration, experience development and marketing. It aims to ensure the stabilization and recovery of Indigenous tourism businesses in Manitoba, and to achieve a 20 per cent increase in market-ready and export-ready businesses by 2025.
With the appointment of Holly Courchene as CEO of ITM in May 2022, significant progress has been made in establishing the organization, its website, business plan, governance and policy documents, financial and operational systems and membership guide. The association supports Indigenous tourism operators in all regions of Manitoba with experience development, marketing and advocacy.
“Leadership and collaboration are necessary for the Indigenous tourism sector in Manitoba to thrive”, says Courchene. “The services we provide bring both domestic and international visitors to Indigenous tourism businesses and contribute to Indigenous economies. Indigenous Tourism Manitoba provides opportunities to share Indigenous culture, stories, and art throughout Manitoba.”
As a result of efforts under the strategy, the number of Indigenous tourism businesses in Manitoba has grown from 81 in December 2019 to 170 by March 2023.
Over the past two years, Travel Manitoba has awarded almost $440,000 for Indigenous tourism product development in Manitoba. Fourteen projects were funded under the Tourism Innovation and Recovery Fund and another two projects were awarded funding under the Travel Manitoba and PrairiesCan Winter Tourism Development Fund.
Manitoba hosted the International Indigenous Tourism Conference from March 8-10, 2023, and over 1,000 delegates attended and participated in pre and post conference tourism excursions. ITAC also hosted its annual awards gala as part of the conference.
“Indigenous tourism has been shown to be a significant source for employment and an important economic driver in Indigenous communities across Canada”, said Colin Ferguson, President and CEO of Travel Manitoba. “It is also an important reconciliation opportunity and allows Indigenous peoples to share their culture on their own terms in a way that is beneficial to them.”
The Manitoba Indigenous Tourism Strategy represents a much needed investment in an underdeveloped segment of Manitoba’s tourism and cultural sector. The strategy identifies Indigenous tourism experiences as an important part of visiting Manitoba and recognizes that these experiences have high potential to become iconic Canadian tourism products.