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Indigenous women in Alberta leading the way in tourism industry

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WATCH: There's been a significant surge in our province's tourism industry and the Indigenous experience is increasingly becoming part of the Canadian travel itinerary. One in two Albertans have booked a cultural experience. As Jill Croteau reports, a growing number of Indigenous female entrepreneurs are part of that exponential growth – Feb 22, 2022

Demand for a newly identified industry has grown exponentially and Indigenous tourism in Alberta is on the rise.

According to an Indigenous Tourism Alberta survey, one in two Albertans have booked a cultural experience over the last couple of years. MacKenzie Brown with Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA) said it’s been inspiring to see the shift.

“It’s a way to share our stories through our own voices and for people to learn who we are,” Brown said.

Read more: New group hopes people venture further south to explore Alberta’s Rockies

“Canadians are starting to realize there are experiences we can all take part in and be able to use them as a tool for reconciliation to learn about the past and move forward as a country.”

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MacKenzie Brown with Indigenous Tourism Alberta. Jill Croteau/Global News

In particular, women-owned businesses are leading the way, helping bridge the gap with the non-Indigenous communities and helping reconnect their people who have lost their roots.

“We are the life-givers, the matriarchs, the homemakers of our communities, and to see that being translated and transformed into entrepreneurship. It’s beautiful. It’s time.”

“We are a humble culture and not always telling people what we are doing, but rather just doing it,” Brown said.

Historically, Indigenous people were excluded from the tourism industry but there’s more inclusion now. In Alberta, 49 per cent of Indigenous businesses are owned by women.

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Diana Frost started a social enterprise ‘Colouring It Forward,’ an initiative showcasing Indigenous art. She eventually created a subscription package called ‘Equinox Box’, full of wellness products from other Indigenous women.

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“I originally intended to make 50 boxes and I sold out the next day,” Frost said. “I work with an elder to write a wellness message and we smudge boxes and pray for people who receive them.”

Equinox Box. Jill Croteau/Global News
Jill Croteau/Global News

Equinox Box

“A lot of the art and books in there has teachings from the elders that will help people reconnect, whether it’s a foster child or children raised by someone who went to residential schools, like myself,” Frost said. “My mother wasn’t able to teach me about my culture so I had quite a time trying to learn about Indigenous culture.”

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One of the original female trailblazers is still going strong decades later. Yvonne Jobin owns ‘Moonstone Creation’, an Inglewood shop featuring Indigenous artists and their creations.

Products available at Moonstone Creation. Jill Croteau/Global News
Jill Croteau/Global News

Inside Moonstone Creation

“I have seen so much growth over the years, I was the only person making a good living in Calgary by doing what I do best,” Jobin said.

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“When I sold my first beaded buckskin jacket for $10,000 we celebrated because I’ve opened a door for myself and others to walk through and people will learn to appreciate what we have to offer.”

Read more: Métis Nation cries foul ahead of Calgary council decision on Indigenous gathering place location

“For too long, our people sold their work for way less than what it should have been sold for.”

And she continues to inspire other Indigenous women.

“A friend once said, ‘I could raise my kids with beads and buckskin and have a good life.’ It’s about never giving up on the dream,” Jobin said.

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