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Indigenous tourism a sector of growth and impact for Ottawa

Ottawa Tourism’s resources build cross-cultural connections that support learning, growing and thriving together

Indigenous Tourism dinner event

While local business leader Colleen Nolan joined Ottawa Tourism just a month ago, this proud Anishinaabe woman, originally from the Garden River First Nation, was already well-known locally as a connector.

That’s why Ottawa Tourism hired her to help advance its Destination Stewardship Plan — a 10-year roadmap and vision for Ottawa as a tourism destination — as its Indigenous Tourism Liaison.

Nolan’s background has provided a natural progression to where she is now, having held roles within Indigenous community and provincial organizations which encompassed economic development, sourcing funding, and assisting in business plan writing, “I supported proprietors and helped Indigenous communities explore tourism opportunities,” explained Nolan.

She’ll continue to do that and more as Ottawa Tourism’s point person for local Indigenous tourism initiatives. 

Colleen Nolan of Ottawa Tourism
Colleen Nolan

Nolan’s new role aligns with Ottawa Tourism’s commitment to the TRC’s Call to Action, which includes supporting education, business, sports and introducing visitors to Indigenous history and culture through tourism opportunities in the region.

Ottawa Tourism laid the groundwork for this initiative over the last several years through its involvement with initiatives that foster Indigenous tourism, most recently by taking the entire team to a Makatew Workshop to mark this year’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Celebrating Indigenous businesses in Ottawa

But it doesn’t end after Orange Shirt Day has passed. Truth and reconciliation is an ongoing effort that requires collaboration, openness, and understanding. Ottawa Tourism is working in that direction by taking tangible steps to support Indigenous initiatives that attract visitors while promoting Indigenous experiences.

The foundation for promoting Indigenous tourism is through membership to Ottawa Tourism, which is offered at no cost for tourism businesses and is therefore barrier-free. From food and beverages to team building, workshops and cultural experiences, there is already a range of  local Indigenous tourism providers that are promoted by Ottawa Tourism, and the organization is looking to attract more as a way to strengthen the community of businesses in its network.

And for non-Indigenous businesses, there are multiple ways to support and plug into the experiences and offerings of Indigenous tourism operations in our city. For instance, if you need a caterer, networking site, or just want to treat your team to lunch, put Beandigen on your list of go-to venues. Team activities and cohesion can also come from engaging in the experiences available at Mādahòkì Farm or Makatew Workshops for social, team-building as well as learning & development activities. 

Madhoki Farm

Building connections for future growth

By hiring Nolan, Ottawa Tourism is reaffirming its commitment to supporting Indigenous history and culture through tourism. 

And while the work is already underway, the organization knows that this is only the beginning of something that has the potential of contributing to Reconciliation by both stimulating Indigenous entrepreneurship, while raising awareness and bolstering more dialogue between communities.

“The question is how to transform someone’s cooking into a catering company, or their craftsmanship with beading and moccasins into a business,” said Nolan. 

The following are some resources available to Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs and operators:

  • barrier-free membership program that includes B2B and B2C promotion opportunities
  • a funding and mentorship grant program for Indigenous tourism business owners (by application)
  • liaising with umbrella organizations like Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Indigenous Tourism Ontario
  • attracting Indigenous sporting events and Indigenous-led business events, such as the International Indigenous Tourism Conference, which will be held in Ottawa in February, 2024 
  • Being top-of-mind to connect Indigenous cultural offerings at conferences being held in Ottawa

By connecting with business owners and entrepreneurs to shed light on these resources that are available, Nolan’s mission is to build relationships and partnerships to market Ottawa as a top destination for bridging communities and offering authentic Indigenous experiences.

The overall goal of this work is a healthy prosperous community for all, she added.

“What I find most rewarding is building people’s confidence, finding the support resources that they need, so that you can see that person grow, thrive and just flourish,” said Nolan.