My focus has turned to outreach and engagement– deciding what needs to happen now and what can happen organically – as I also seek to capture traditional and ancestral knowledge along the way.” -Jolleen Dick, Regional Indigenous Tourism Specialist, 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island)
When Jolleen Dick joined Tourism Vancouver Island and Indigenous Tourism British Columbia (ITBC), in November 2019, she was eager to launch into her new role as Regional Indigenous Tourism Specialist. At the time, this was a newly created position (already in place in three other regions across the province). However, the issues Jolleen would be tackling were hardly new. Sharing the Indigenous experience by promoting Indigenous culture, worldview and way of life has been a long-standing priority in celebrating the diversity of Vancouver Island’s First Nations to visitors.
“When visitors are in Hawaii, they say ‘aloha’. When I’m in Nuu-chah-nulth territory I say ‘chuu’,” says Jolleen, a Hupacasath born and raised in Port Alberni who has an undergrad in Tourism Management from Vancouver Island University. “I want to find more opportunities, right here on the Island, where Indigenous people can share our greetings as languages for our guests to learn.”
Bump in the road
Little more than four months into her new position, opportunities to share came to a screeching halt with the arrival of COVID. As pandemic health and safety protocols took hold, tourism operations across the globe hunkered down for, what would prove to be, an indeterminate amount of time. Jolleen’s role included being a Program Advisor as she worked with colleagues on Tourism Resiliency Program efforts up until mid-November 2020, when her position then shifted to focus exclusively on Indigenous businesses.
Importance of partnership-building
“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve witnessed a lot of interest in building partnerships with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous operators,” says Jolleen, who sees partnership-building, alongside education and visibility, as key to developing a thriving industry. “Businesses were also starting to take a closer look at their assets and trying to enhance their services, whether that be through innovations, like pivoting to virtual online tours, or assessing capital upgrades.”
Pre-COVID, Indigenous tourism was the fastest growing sector of Canada’s tourism industry. On Vancouver Island, this represented nearly a quarter of the province’s overnight visitations. Most were coming from within BC.
“Wellness travel, environmentally-conscious and sustainable travel… these were all becoming popular ways for visitors to unplug (before COVID),” says Jolleen. “The values of land, nature and the environment – all attached to this type of experience – pair well with Indigenous worldview.”
Opportunities for communities
When travel and tourism do resume, Jolleen is optimistic that the Island will continue to have much to offer. In 2018, according to ITBC, 36% of visitors participated in an Indigenous tourism experience. While this figure doesn’t provide Vancouver Island specific data, Jolleen believes tourism will remain a key opportunity for communities to diversify their economies.
“Past and present land use is negotiated and debated but there’s an opportunity to maintain the natural integrity of the land and the people who live on this land. This is important because land and the ocean are used to tell our stories. That’s the way it has been for thousands of years.”
Pause for reflection
Like many of us today, in light of COVID, Jolleen has had time to reflect. Questions about how to develop “meaningful action of the words written everywhere” (the pervasiveness of action plans, strategies and reports) are foremost on her mind.
“My focus has turned to outreach and engagement– deciding what needs to happen now and what can happen organically – as I also seek to capture traditional and ancestral knowledge along the way.”
Knowledge keeping is an important value that exists within Jolleen’s own family. Her ancestral heritage includes the Alberni Valley’s Watts family, including her late grandfather and Hupacasath hereditary chief, “Tuffy.”
“If (Tuffy) were alive today, he’d tell me to keep up the good work, keep the faith and that advocacy and strength are needed,” says Jolleen.
There’s little doubt that Grandfather Tuffy would be proud of Jolleen’s path. And his probable advice calling for strength, couldn’t be more apt today.
Jolleen is on the Destination Development team supporting engagement and planning for the Targeted Regional Tourism Development Initiatives Fund. This fund includes investing in regional tourism development among the Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
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