Brenda Holder, Mahikan Trails
When Brenda Holder, Cree knowledge keeper and founder of Mahikan Trails, began her tourism journey, she heard the word “no” a lot. Seven times, to be exact.
“There was no faith in my abilities to be an Indigenous woman in business, especially within the tourism world,” she says.
“And I could have been very typical of my culture and put my head down in shame and walked away. But I got angry. And I said, ‘No. I’m not going to let you say no to me. You don’t get to say no to me.’”
Today, Mahikan Trails is expanding rapidly—and receiving some well-deserved attention from a growing number of international sources. For Brenda, this means more opportunities to share important teachings with visitors from across Alberta, and around the world.
“This is such an important way for us to connect to community, to continue the stories between youth and elder, to offer an educational opportunity to our guests to know who we are, to help people understand that the land is all that there is.
“We are all about the land. The land is in us. The land is on us. We are part of the land. Our DNA is part of that. Our DNA is part of the wind. Our DNA is part of every leaf that falls from every tree, every breath that each of us breathes.”
There is nothing in this world that can touch me now and what I can share with the rest of the world. And if I can inspire other Indigenous women or even young men, then it was all worth it.
Jenna Walsh, Elevated Escapes
For Jenna Walsh (owner/operator Elevated Escapes) and her partners, fostering connection with the land is also a key aspect of her visitor experience. In partnership with David and Ginger Onespot, owners of the Onespot family campground, Elevated Escapes offers year-round glamping accommodations on the banks of the Elbow River near Cochrane.
“You come out here, you can leave your cellphone behind, start a bonfire, listen to the sounds of the river, it's just really about experiencing the magic of nature.
“And we also want to encourage people to learn about Indigenous traditional land-based teachings when they come out here, which is offered by Indigenous landowners David and Ginger Onespot on site.”
According to the Onespots, they first met Jenna when she paid a visit to their campsite. Once a relationship was built, Jenna made the pitch, explaining how this partnership could benefit both parties.
They hope to expand programming by eventually offering land-based workshops taught by Treaty 6, 7, and 8 instructors as well as local elders. David and Ginger look forward to teaching families and guests of all ages a wide range of traditional land-based skills and activities.
But Jenna’s goals extend beyond this successful partnership with the Onespots. She hopes to replicate this partnership model in other locations across Alberta and B.C.
My dream for Elevated Escapes is to continue to develop glamping sites across Alberta and to continue to create meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships, particularly with Indigenous landowners and entrepreneurs, because they can use that revenue to fuel their own business and dreams. So it adds a layer of meaning to what Elevated Escapes is doing.
Kelsey Baldwin, Kelsey's Caravan
As one of the only outfitters in Cochrane who offers guided paddleboarding trips, Kelsey Baldwin is on a mission to get more people out on the water.
“I find women have a harder time branching out and trying things for the first time without being intimidated or without feeling like they can’t do it.”
She started offering river trips to make water sports more accessible for a wide diversity of people. Kelsey provides guided trips, taking care of all the gear, transportation, safety, and itineraries – so visitors can just show up without needing to worry about the details.
“We talk about river safety, the dos and don’ts of being on your paddleboard, introducing some very basic paddle strokes,” Kelsey says.
It helps people feel confident moving around by themselves on the river.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I never would have thought to get on the river on a paddleboard by myself if I didn't go with you first.’
“That’s exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing – to get people out there for the first time and trying something new.”
A lot of women are intimidated to get into a new sport. They don’t see a lot of other women who are certified and understand the mechanics of the sport they want to get into.
There are many women in the tourism industry, whether they are operators or within destination organizations, who are making a difference and inspiring those around them. The diversity of perspectives and ideas is what makes our industry exciting. So, whether you're reading this on International Women's Day or months down the road, it’s never a bad time to amplify the women who inspire you.
Want to support and connect with these three inspiring women?