The wellness camp in northern Alberta shows the potential of indigenous tourism
On the shores of a lake in northern Alberta, a wellness camp drawing on Indigenous traditions is among the province’s new tourism forerunners.
“It’s a lot of work, you know, but it’s work that I love,” said April Isadore, who launched alcohol- and drug-free wellness camp Kokum’s Outreach in 2019.
Isadore’s camp is part of a wave of new Indigenous-led tourism businesses—including art galleries, casinos, restaurants and hotels—that have joined Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
Agency CEO Shae Bird said membership grew from 138 in 2021 to 230 in 2022. To support continued growth, Travel Alberta is investing $1.3 million in Alberta Indigenous Tourism in 2023.
“This tells us there has been a significant increase in interest from entrepreneurs and communities across the province in developing Indigenous tourism,” Bird said.
And that fits right into a provincial strategy to expand tourism outside of major cities and national parks, the key theme of the Growing the North conference held Feb. 23 in Grande Prairie.
Doubling tourism industry in Alberta
In 2019, tourism in Alberta was a $10 billion industry, according to the provincial government.
Taking that to $20 billion a year by 2035 is an achievable goal, but only if between $6 billion and $8 billion is generated outside of legacy destinations like Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, said Jon Mamela, senior Vice President of Travel Alberta.
He said Northwest Alberta has great potential as an emerging tourism destination in Alberta.
“It has to be very community-oriented,” Mamela said. “It’s not just us coming as Travel Alberta to say it’s being done.”
Kokum’s Outreach, located near Joussard, Alta., on the southwest shore of Lesser Slave Lake, started with one canvas teepee and now has nine, Isadore told CBC News.
In addition to accommodation and meals, the camp offers various program options designed to support an individual’s mental and spiritual health.
“There are people who want to learn more about the indigenous culture and language. So I bring in elders who have that knowledge base and experience to teach people who want to learn,” Isadore said.
“Stories to Share”
Bird said promoting a variety of Indigenous tourism opportunities throughout Alberta can showcase the diversity of culture.
“There are so many nations outside of these big urban centers that have their stories to share,” Bird said.
Isadore said setting up the camp at Lesser Slave Lake, about 300 kilometers northwest of Edmonton, is a dream come true, but she wants it to be more than just a place to sleep in a teepee, beat a drum build, smoke fish or dry meat.
“Not only do we have to uphold our indigenous culture … but we also have to keep that kindness to one another and learn from one another,” she said.
Isadore said that’s why she wants to expand Kokum’s Outreach to include more programming outside of the summer months.
“I never intended to make a million dollars,” she said.
“But I want to reach at least a million people.”