March 18, 2017 · Updated 1:33 PM

VIU students Sara Fulla, left, and Britta Peterson are busy planning and promoting the Sustainable Indigenous Tourism Symposium, 2017 that takes place at the Nanaimo campus April 12-13. Registration is now open for this event. / Photo contributed

By Dane Gibson

The sustainable indigenous tourism industry is growing across Canada, thanks to organized efforts by indigenous communities and leaders who are actively creating opportunities in the sector.

Based on a tourism model that honours and celebrates indigenous traditions and culture, it’s an industry that is being built around a deeper understanding of our connection and ongoing relationship to the Earth.

A symposium, coordinated through Vancouver Island University’s Scholarship, Research, and Creative Activity Department, is taking place at the Nanaimo campus April 12-13 to share innovative best practices in community-based indigenous tourism.

Britta Peterson, master of arts in sustainable leisure management student, and tourism management student Sara Fulla are helping to organize the event. Fulla, a member of the ‘Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay, B.C., says they have speakers from all over the world sharing their sustainable tourism successes and talking about how to support and grow the industry.

“There is a wide range of examples of sustainable indigenous tourism that will be explored and this symposium will be looking into successful indigenous tourism products from across the world,” said Fulla. “Innovations in research methodologies, increasing awareness about indigenous tourism, and initiatives to support the development and revitalization of indigenous languages are just a few examples of topics that will be covered.”

The event was made possible by funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and is led by Ryerson University with the participation of partners such as the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, Cape Breton University and the University of Tasmania.

“I’m really enjoying helping to plan the symposium and through this process I’m learning so much. I’ve been able to put into practice what I’ve learned in the past three years in the bachelor of tourism program so I’m really just thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it,” said Fulla.

The research symposium will be interactive and participants can attend the event in person or watch via an online broadcast.

A virtual think tank will be set up to allow online participants to share ideas, innovations and news as the event progresses.

Discussions before and after the event will also be made possible through various social media platforms.

Confirmed speakers include Ben Sherman, who is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Nation and chairpman of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance; Kelly Galaski, who is a program manager for the world’s largest adventure travel brand G Adventures; and Nicole Vaugeois, who is the B.C. regional innovation chair in tourism and sustainable rural development and VIU associate vice-president of scholarship, research and creative activity.

Vaugeois says indigenous tourism is a booming market that is growing, in part because people are increasingly seeking not just adventure but also authentic, meaningful experiences when they travel.

“This will be an event that brings professionals together who have, through trial and error, developed exceptional community-driven tourism businesses. For delegates, the agenda is set up to stimulate ideas that they can translate into projects that support their own community’s economic, sustainability and cultural tourism aspirations,” said Vaugeois.

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Dane Gibson is a writer with VIU’s communications department.