Published 04:00 Mar 25, 2022

By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The federal government has invested $1.3 million to strengthen the Indigenous tourism sector and showcase Alberta as a premiere Indigenous tourism destination in Canada.

Out of this amount, $843,000 supports Indigenous Tourism Alberta’s five-year strategy and action plan to assist Alberta’s Indigenous tourism operators adapt to market changes.

This includes website modernizations, executive mentorships, tourism readiness programs and cultural awareness sessions for tourism-industry partners.

“The ultimate goal is to help our Indigenous tourism industry back to pre-COVID levels by 2025,” said Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA), in an email.

Bird added how ITA programs helped entrepreneurs navigate tough times and helped align with long-term strategies for growth.

“ITA looks forward to continuing our work with the Government of Canada to support the diverse and impactful Indigenous visitor economy in what we now know as Alberta.”

Meanwhile, Calgary’s TELUS Spark Centre is receiving $500,000 to develop and launch The Sacred Defenders of the Universe experience.

The exhibit will share Indigenous knowledge and tradition to a growing audience using the Centre’s state-of-the-art Digital Immersion Gallery.

With these investments, Indigenous Tourism Alberta expects to help create, maintain, or expand 45 Indigenous businesses and 100 jobs, while TELUS Spark Centre expects its project to attract over 19,000 visitors by 2023.

“Few industries have felt the brunt of the pandemic as much as the tourism sector,” said Kyle Allen, press secretary for the office of the minister of northern affairs, minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada and minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, in an email.

Funding was provided under the regional relief and recovery fund (RRRF), which, as a pandemic relief program, is now closed for applications.

“RRRF was intended to support all economic sectors, including Indigenous businesses,” Allen said.

“Priority consideration was given to businesses in the tourism sector in support of the Government of Canada’s announcement that 24 per cent of RRRF funding would be used to support the tourism sector.”

Although the application period for the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund is closed, Allen said funding focused on helping the tourism sector recover from the pandemic is available through the Tourism Relief Fund.

Indigenous tourism in Alberta provides jobs and supports entrepreneurs, businesses and communities, according to a federal press release.

Pre-COVID, Indigenous tourism was one of Canada’s and Alberta’s largest and fastest-growing tourism niche sectors worth an estimated $166.2 million.

This item reprinted from the Jasper Fitzhugh, Jasper, Alberta