Immerse yourself in Indigenous culture this summer

Ron Betts with a performer from Mama Mihirangi, a New Zealand group. Photo Supplied.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment I went from calling Cape Breton home, to proudly answering “Kamloops” when asked where I’m from. Anyone from the Maritimes will tell you that home will always be the East Coast, despite that I’ve come to love the Thompson-Okanagan just as much as my island birthplace.

There are many advantages to being brought up in Cape Breton and many lessons that have remained with me. One of the most powerful is the strength of cultural identity that comes from the area’s Scottish heritage; I heard a saying once that there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who are Scottish and those who want to be. While that might not be entirely true, what is undeniable is that underlying feeling of pride that comes whenever I hear a fiddle tune, a Maritime artist on the radio, or I meet someone with the unmistakable accent of an East Coaster. It’s that lens of pride of place that makes me equally proud of the culture in and around Kamloops.

In 2016, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) launched an Indigenous Tourism initiative, the goal of which is to embrace the history, culture, belief systems and stories of the many First Nations communities throughout the region and to create economic opportunities in a meaningful, respectful and authentic way. In 2014, I was living in New Zealand and saw first-hand the impact cultural tourism can have on a people. I was also moved by the way Maori culture was presented with immense pride to travellers.

Ron Betts canoeing at Quaaout Lodge. Photo Supplied.

Recently, I took part in a tourism industry familiarization tour. These tours are designed to highlight the things an area has to offer and showcase what makes the area attractive to visitors. One of the special activities on the tour was a canoe trip with Tanner Quanstrom, the cultural co-ordinator at Quaaout Lodge near Chase, B.C.

The lodge, located on the shore of Little Shuswap Lake, on traditional Secwepemc territory, is operated by the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band. Through their cultural program, they have been innovative in sharing the Secwepemc culture and way of life with visitors from around the world.

To better understand the challenges and successes that are happening, I visited the Secwepemc Museum on the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band. There, I spoke with a very proud and knowledgeable young woman and while the bulk of our conversation won’t fit in this column, what struck me was that some of the historical injustices inflicted upon the people who were first here came from the naïve approach that they needed to be taught, instead of being viewed as a people we could learn from.

Of course, this is an incredibly understated and simplistic representation of what was done to their culture and way of life, but it has compelled me to try to learn and understand more about my friends and neighbours. While none of this makes me an expert on Secwepemc culture or cultural tourism, it has made me look at what’s happening locally with admiration.

In the spirit of learning, there are many ways to embrace the cultural history and richness of the region. If you’ve never taken in a traditional powwow, make the Neskonlith Powwow (June 29 to July 1) or the Kamloopa Powwow (August 3 to 5) part of your summer plans. Visit the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park or check out Indigenous People’s Day on June 21 at Quaaout Lodge. Each of these events will deepen your appreciation for how diverse our area is and how lucky we are to share it with one another.

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