Dion Red Gun has met and overcome a daunting series of obstacles in his efforts to preserve and share his culture.
The 56-year-old member of the Siksika Reserve southeast of Calgary is deeply connected to the land. He has struggled with natural disasters, debilitating arthritis and the many challenges First Nations across Canada face in trying to start a business on the road to building his River Ranche tourism outfit.
As part of a wave of Indigenous tourism growth across the country, he’s pushing ahead in part to try and preserve the stories and traditions by sharing them with those outside the community.
“That’s why I’m very determined to lead a good path forward, and hopefully I’ll lead a good path for the grandchildren; share the same stories that were passed down to me as close as I can to how I’m connected to the land,” said Red Gun, seated next to the fireplace in his recently rebuilt lodge.
He had to rebuild because the previous lodge, built on an island in the Bow River that made it an ideal base for fly fishing and guiding, was washed away by the devastating 2013 flood.
The destruction of his business came at a difficult time. Red Gun had only just learned to walk again at the time, after undergoing surgery to address the arthritis that had confined him to a wheelchair.
He was also focused on finishing his business degree, which was made all the more difficult because his severely arthritic hands made him unable to even hold a pen.
“That was tough, tough to take. Lot of struggles.”
Determined to reopen the lodge, and with help from his family, business partners, flood recovery programs and classmates at Mount Royal University, he did rebuild.
“It was a challenge, and for every door I went in, there was someone trying to close the door. But I had my foot in there.”
The lodge is now perched on a hilltop high above the Bow River with sweeping views of the river valley, and is able to capitalize on the growing international interest in Indigenous tourism.
“As far as survival mode, right now it’s global travellers coming into the neighbourhood. At Siksika, we’re now able to share our own stories through tourism.”
Interest is up, especially from the U.S., Japan, China, the U.K., France and Germany, but overall has come up against a lack of capacity, said Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association Canada.
“We’re really seeing a huge growing interest internationally but we don’t have enough market-ready products, so we’re feeling compression right now.”
Sector growth plans
The association’s five-year plan is to create a minimum of 50 new export-ready businesses, as well as add more than 7,000 new jobs by 2021 to the 33,000 already there, which is up from around 12,000 people in the sector in 2002.
The goal, with help from $13 million from the federal government, is also to increase Indigenous tourism revenue by $300 million from the roughly $1.4 billion it currently has.
Indigenous tourism is also becoming a more significant part of marketing Canada as a whole, said David Goldstein, CEO of Destination Canada.
“Once they know this culture and this experience exists, it’s a great differentiator, that’s the business side.
“There’s a softer side to this, which is the important role tourism plays as a people-to-people connector. And I don’t think you can truly understand Canada unless you have lived some of these experiences.”
He said that in the past, Indigenous tourism has been either seasonal or very special interest, but that sophisticated, internationally-viable travel options have emerged in Canada over the past ten years.
Commodifying culture and history
There is still resistance and skepticism from some in the community about commodifying their culture and history, but Chief Lee Crowchild, chief of the Tsuut’ina Nation southwest of Calgary, said perspectives are changing.
“We talk about tourism, about the economic benefits behind it. But more importantly, we talk about what it means for us to move our identity forward.”
“We’re saying this is our land, we’re still here, we’re not invisible. We’re not the showcase Indians of the ’60s and ’50s, we’re the real people of the land. We have lots of things to show you. And more importantly, we have a lot of things to teach you.”
Red Gun said that he leaves the spiritual side of teachings to the more open-minded of Siksika elders, but he is keen to share the history and stories he learned growing up, to help keep the memories alive.
“It helps, that I can share it orally. I never thought I’d have the privilege to be sharing … I lost it for a while, but it seems the older I get, the more alert I am, the more in tune I am.”
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Edmonton Alberta News Headlines
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Edmonton /ˈɛdməntən/ (About this sound listen) is the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. Edmonton is on the North Saskatchewan River and is the centre of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, which is surrounded by Alberta’s central region. The city anchors the north end of what Statistics Canada defines as the “Calgary–Edmonton Corridor”.
The city had a population of 932,546 in 2016, making it Alberta’s second-largest city and Canada’s fifth-largest municipality. Also in 2016, Edmonton had a metropolitan population of 1,321,426, making it the sixth-largest census metropolitan area (CMA) in Canada. Edmonton is North America’s northernmost city that has a metropolitan population over one million. A resident of Edmonton is known as an Edmontonian.
Edmonton’s historic growth has been facilitated through the absorption of five adjacent urban municipalities (Strathcona, North Edmonton, West Edmonton, Beverly and Jasper Place) and a series of annexations ending in 1982.[ Known as the “Gateway to the North”, the city is a staging point for large-scale oil sands projects occurring in northern Alberta and large-scale diamond mining operations in the Northwest Territories.
Edmonton is a cultural, governmental and educational centre. It hosts a year-round slate of festivals, reflected in the nickname “Canada’s Festival City”. It is home to North America’s largest mall, West Edmonton Mall (the world’s largest mall from 1981 until 2004), and Fort Edmonton Park, Canada’s largest living history museum.
Further information: History of Edmonton and Timeline of Edmonton history
The earliest known inhabitants settled in the area that is now Edmonton around 3,000 BC and perhaps as early as 12,000 BC, when an ice-free corridor opened as the last glacial period ended and timber, water, and wildlife became available in the region.
In 1754, Anthony Henday, an explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), may have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area. His expeditions across the Canadian Prairies were mainly to seek contact with the aboriginal population for establishing the fur trade, as competition was fierce between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. By 1795, Fort Edmonton was established on the river’s north bank as a major trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The new fort’s name was suggested by John Peter Pruden after Edmonton, London, the home town of both the HBC deputy governor Sir James Winter Lake, and Pruden.
In 1876, Treaty 6, which includes what is now Edmonton, was signed between the Aboriginal peoples in Canada (or First Nations) and Queen Victoria as Queen of Canada, as part of the Numbered Treaties of Canada. The agreement includes the Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton, Fort Pitt and Battle River. The area covered by the treaty represents most of the central area of the current provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to southern Alberta in 1885 helped the Edmonton economy, and the 1891 building of the Calgary and Edmonton (C&E) Railway resulted in the emergence of a railway townsite (South Edmonton/Strathcona) on the river’s south side, across from Edmonton. The arrival of the CPR and the C&E Railway helped bring settlers and entrepreneurs from eastern Canada, Europe, U.S. and other parts of the world. The Edmonton area’s fertile soil and cheap land attracted settlers, further establishing Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre. Some people participating in the Klondike Gold Rush passed through South Edmonton/Strathcona in 1897. Strathcona was North America’s northernmost railway point, but travel to the Klondike was still very difficult for the “Klondikers”, and a majority of them took a steamship north to the Yukon from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Jasper Avenue, ca. 1907
Incorporated as a town in 1892 with a population of 700 and then as a city in 1904 with a population of 8,350, Edmonton became the capital of Alberta when the province was formed a year later, on September 1, 1905. In November 1905, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) arrived in Edmonton, accelerating growth.
During the early 1900s, Edmonton’s rapid growth led to speculation in real estate. In 1912, Edmonton amalgamated with the City of Strathcona, south of the North Saskatchewan River; as a result, the city extended south of the North Saskatchewan River for the first time.
Just prior to World War I, the boom ended, and the city’s population declined from more than 72,000 in 1914 to less than 54,000 only two years later. Many impoverished families moved to subsistence farms outside the city, while others fled to greener pastures in other provinces. Recruitment to the Canadian army during the war also contributed to the drop in population. Afterwards, the city slowly recovered in population and economy during the 1920s and 1930s and took off again during and after World War II.
The Edmonton City Centre Airport opened in 1929, becoming Canada’s first licensed airfield.Originally named Blatchford Field in honour of former mayor Kenny Blatchford, pioneering aviators such as Wilfrid R. “Wop” May and Max Ward used Blatchford Field as a major base for distributing mail, food, and medicine to Northern Canada; hence Edmonton’s emergence as the “Gateway to the North”. World War II saw Edmonton become a major base for the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Northwest Staging Route.
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