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Shae Bird, Chief Executive Officer of Indigenous Tourism Alberta, is confident Indigenous tourism will play a powerful role in reconciliation.

“Within truth and reconciliation, it starts with truth,” he says. “And that truth comes from the Indigenous people and sharing those Indigenous stories through the Indigenous voice.”

Growing up in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, Bird was immersed in Indigenous culture, from the morning announcements in elementary school, to the name of his middle school and the area itself. Cowichan takes its name from the valley’s original inhabitants, the Quw’utsun people, rooted in the word “shquw’utsun”—which directly translated means “to warm one’s back in the sun.”

Bird sees Indigenous tourism as a conduit to creating understanding and change within Canada. “The vast majority of Canadians don’t know the Indigenous history from the Indigenous lens,” he says. “They don’t fully know the traditional territories they’re on, or the culture or language. These are all key pieces to Indigenous culture.”

Economically, Bird notes, Indigenous tourism just makes sense. Before the pandemic, Indigenous tourism was one of Canada’s and Alberta’s largest and fastest growing tourism niche sectors, employing over 39,000 people and contributing $1.7 billion in direct economic impact.

Beyond economics, Indigenous tourism has the power to change perspectives and to preserve culture, language, and traditions. It provides Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs and Indigenous communities with a platform to be the leading voice in reclaiming their space.

And Alberta is positioned to be the premier destination for Indigenous tourism in Canada.


“There are beautiful landscapes around the world, but no one has that Indigenous story of the people that call Treaty 6, 7, and 8 their traditional territory—and the Métis regions across the province. Those are stories that cannot be replicated.”

Shae Bird, CEO, Indigenous Tourism Alberta

Travel Alberta and Indigenous Tourism Alberta recently signed a three-year partnership agreement that will support reconciliation efforts and foster positive economic and social outcomes for Indigenous communities by highlighting visitor experiences unique to Alberta.

“We are embarking on an incredible journey to make Alberta the top global destination for authentic Indigenous tourism experiences,” says David Goldstein, CEO of Travel Alberta. “This is an important part of our reconciliation process as Canadians.”

Bird continues, “This partnership really showcases the reciprocal relationship between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals within the tourism sector here in Alberta, and will help create the framework and foundation to work alongside each other.”

National Indigenous Peoples Day 2021

Creating an economically viable and sustainable Indigenous economy through the sharing of culture and stories is a key piece to moving forward as a province and as a country, Bird says.

“Indigenous culture and history are not homogenous,” he adds. “It's not all the same across the country. Every community, every First Nation, Métis region—they all have their own history and their own stories to share. And I believe that Indigenous tourism really has the power to share those stories in an authentic way that is coming from the Indigenous people of that traditional territory.”

“It’s something that all Canadians need to experience.”

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