On Top of World: Way Up North, Natives Push Tourism

By Barbara Borst Of the | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

On Top of World: Way Up North, Natives Push Tourism


Barbara Borst Of the, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


UP NEAR the top of the world, in the northern reaches of the Canadian wilderness, the economy is bottoming out. But native leaders are counting on tourism to revive some of North America's most isolated communities.

They want visitors who are interested in learning from native guides about the ancient cultures and seeing the natural marvels of the Arctic or Pacific Coast. But they don't want so many that they overwhelm a fragile environment or community.

Since the area is beyond tour buses, they believe travelers will care more about the culture and the environment than about luxury accommodations. Bill Rogoza of the Northern Ontario Native Tourism Association says such tourism is not likely to distort the traditions of the communities involved. It may even help aboriginal youth reconnect with their heritage by providing jobs in their areas rather than forcing them to seek work in the cities, he said. Allen Gordon of Nunavik Tourism Association in far-northern Quebec says tourism is the main hope for economic growth in the region's scattered Inuit settlements. With so few private-sector jobs and half the population under 15, the need promises to increase. "There ain't much up here," Gordon said. "There's no industry other than government." But there could be work in transportation, handicrafts and other fields if tourism takes hold. Nunavik is just starting to promote treks through the Torngat Mountains on the Labrador border, dog sledding, and the April winter festival at Puvirnituq on Hudson Bay, where snow sculptors strive for artistic excellence and residents compete in igloo-building contests. David Elgie of Aboriginal Business Canada, part of the industry ministry, says indigenous peoples now earn about 1 percent, or $200 million , of the $20 billion Canadian tourist industry. But, he says, they could take home much more. Native associations and some mainstream tour operators are beginning to tap urban markets in Western Europe, Asia and North America where interest is strong in this continent's unique indigenous cultures. The Aboriginal Export and Trade Directory gives a sampling of travel choices: polar bear and beluga whale watching in northern Ontario, introduction to Indian culture at the Anishnabe Village in Manitoba and tours of rugged Vancouver Island with native guides. Barry Parker of the Canadian National Aboriginal Tourism Association says native Canadians operate some 2,000 travel services, ranging from fishing camps to gas stations and craft shops. …

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