Treaty 1 Territory and the Homeland of the Red River Métis (Winnipeg, MB) – The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada has announced the winners of the 2023 Indigenous Tourism Awards – Sponsored by WestJet at the 10th International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC) on March 9, 2023.
Celebrating excellence in Indigenous tourism, these annual awards honour exceptional Indigenous leaders and Indigenous tourism experiences and are divided into two categories: ITAC’s national awards, available to anyone across Canada; and the Indigenous Tourism Manitoba awards, available to Manitoba-based nominees. Nominee businesses must be majority Indigenous owned/controlled and located within Canada.
ITAC and ITM are grateful for the support received from WestJet – the official carrier of the 2023 IITC and the sponsor of the 2023 Indigenous Tourism Awards. We thank their commitment to the excellence and growth of our Indigenous tourism Industry.
“The winners represent an impressive and diverse group of Indigenous operators from coast to coast to coast that have successfully weathered several tough years—and continue to lead and thrive,” says Keith Henry, CEO and President of ITAC. “Each winner and finalist should be incredibly proud of their contribution to the ongoing success and growth of our industry.”
“Congratulations to all finalists and winners of this year’s awards, says Holly Courchene, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Manitoba and Co-Chair of Indigenous Tourism Manitoba. “In the spirit of this year’s conference theme, ‘Adventure to Understanding,’ each winner represents the bringing together of Indigenous cultures – First Nations, Inuit and Métis – and their unique tourism experiences.”
The winners of the 2023 Indigenous Tourism Awards include:
Business Innovation Award
The Business Innovation Award honours operators who have demonstrated the ability to pivot and adapt to the new environment COVID-19 brought with it. This award also acknowledges a new business that opened since 2020 which has been able to garner success during uncertain times in the tourism industry. We commend all nominees for their inspiring displays of resiliency, innovative re-opening or marketing tactics, business innovation or staff retention tactics to make their business successful.
Winner: Dakota Dunes
Located on traditional Whitecap Dakota Unceded Territory, Dakota Dunes Resort & Casino is Saskatoon’s first full-service resort. The resort opened on October 8th 2020, just before the second wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The resort’s success is thanks in part to Chief Darcy Bear’s determination to develop a world-class Indigenous resort. Despite the challenges, Dakota Dunes has established itself as one of the only hotels in Saskatoon area to achieve a perfect 5 of 5 TripAdvisor score. Traditional Dakota culture, values, alliance, and resilience are on full display at the resort.
Female Entrepreneur Award
The Female Entrepreneur Award recognizes strong, empowered Indigenous female entrepreneurs within the tourism industry and across Canada. These powerhouse women demonstrate a commitment to uplifting other female entrepreneurs in their industry while embodying leadership within their business and/or community.
Winner: Josée Leblanc, Atikuss Canada
Based in Uashat, Quebec, Josée Leblanc is an Innu businesswoman with a passion for uplifting Indigenous culture while offering a fair wage to female artisans. With this as a driving force, Josee founded Atelier-Boutique Atikuss. She’s also the designer behind their famous mukluks and offers manufacturing jobs to women from her Nation. Since its launch in 2016, Atikuss has garnered a spot on the world stage for its innovative work in Indigenous fashion and comfort.
Leading the Way in Sustainability Award
This award recognizes operators leading the way in sustainability. These operators are not only committed to fostering a regenerative future for their business and community but have made significant and measurable impacts in the areas of social sustainability, cultural sustainability, and/or environmental sustainability.
Winner: Métis Crossing
Métis Crossing is Alberta’s premiere centre for Métis cultural interpretation, education, gatherings, and business development. A new partnership established by the Visions, Hopes and Dreams at Métis Crossing Wildlife Park provides an opportunity to regenerate an important grassland ecosystem. The partnership represents an important step towards reconciliation and to welcome the return of heritage Bison species to traditional Métis lands. The return of these animals is symbolic of the connection between Indigenous Peoples and the land on which their ancestors once hunted and lived.
The Original Original Award for Exceptional Industry Leadership
The Original Original Award for Exceptional Industry Leadership recognizes a business or organization leading the way Indigenous tourism through the demonstration of excellence in all aspects of its business, such as marketing campaigns, Trip Advisor reviews, revenues generated, low staff turnover and repeat customers. This includes businesses who applied for the Original Original Accreditation Program and received a high score across the board for authentic Indigenous business practices.
Winner: Wikwemikong Tourism, Luke Wassegijig
Luke Wassegijig is the tourism manager at Wikwemikong Tourism on Manitoulin Island in Ontario; an organization that offers an array of authentic Indigenous experiences that reflect the cultural lifestyles and traditions of the Anishnaabek people of the Three Fires Confederacy – Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi. By transforming its operations and enhancing its products to meet visitor demand and promote cultural sustainability through its tour programs, Wikwemikong Tourism, and Luke Wassegijig continue to be industry leaders.
Provincial / Territorial Association of the Year Award
The Provincial or Territorial Association of the Year Award recognizes a Provincial or Territorial Association that demonstrates excellence in all aspects of ITAC’s four Pillars Leadership, Partnership, Development & Marketing to build a resilient Indigenous tourism industry. Celebrating the spirit of partnership, this provincial or territorial leader will demonstrate their connection to Indigenous and non-Indigenous industry through commitment and collaboration with local, provincial/territorial, national and/or international partners.
Winner: Indigenous Tourism Alberta
From the development of workshops, relationships, partnerships, and staff employment Indigenous Tourism Alberta has had its strongest year to date. Aside from seeing their membership skyrocket throughout the continued COVID-19 pandemic, ITA has expanded their team from 4 to 10 full time employees, bringing on an amazing and diverse team for Marketing, Development, Leadership and Partnership goals.
Indigenous Tourism Manitoba’s PROVINCIAL AWARDS
New Operator or Business that Launched a New Experience Award
Although COVID-19 brought many challenges; ITAC recognizes that new operators and new businesses may still be developing their experiences. This award recognizes a phoenix rising through the ashes during one of the most difficult times in recent history. This honour is awarded to a new business or experience that opened between 2020 and 2022.
Winner: Prairie Berry, Jen Turenne
Prairie Berry first opened its gates in 2015 as a strawberry farm in rural Manitoba. It’s unique identity as an Indigenous-owned and fully bilingual business makes it one of a kind in the landscape of berry farms. In 2020, owner Jen Turenne began developing a farm to table dining experience. Throughout the process, she prioritized bringing Indigenous traditions to the forefront of these events, including the addition of bison and bannock to the menu along with offering hoop dancing and drumming.
Cultural Experience Award
The Exceptional Cultural Experience Award recognizes the outstanding delivery of cultural knowledge and guest experiences at Indigenous Cultural Centres, Museums, Galleries, Retail Stores, Food Establishments, Entertainments Centres and Spa/Retreats, Outdoor Adventure, Wildlife Viewing, Outdoor Guided Tours in Manitoba.
Winner: Whiteshell Petroforms
On an outcropping of the ancient Precambrian shield sit carefully arranged rocks. Painted by decades of lichen and trimmed with moss, the figures hold the unmistakable shapes of turtles and birds, serpents and humans. These are the petroforms of Whiteshell Provincial Park. The Whiteshell Petroform tours guide visitors on guided walks of the sacred site, sharing stories of the teachings and healings that continue to this day through ceremony and song.
Outstanding Staff Person Award
This Outstanding Staff Person Award recognizes a youth ambassador or Elder for their extraordinary dedication and exceptional performance while bringing passion for their culture and history and commitment to achieving excellence for the business in Manitoba
Winner: Dennis Daniels – Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre
Dennis Daniels from Peguis First Nation is an Executive Director at Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre. He was hired at the centre 45 years ago as a Curriculum Development Officer and has watched the centre develop and flourish over his time with the organization.
The Leading the Way in Business Development Award
The Business Development Award recognizes a community-based business thriving in tourism business development at an inspiring rate. This business demonstrates the implementation of proper protocol, from community consultation to community buy-in.
Winner: Opaskwayak Cree Nation
Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) is taking bold steps to become the premier cultural destination for Indigenous tourism in Manitoba. More than a dozen new experiences and outfitters in the region saw significant development during the pandemic and most will be ready to launch in the near future, adding to an already robust line-up of tourism offerings in the area.