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International Women’s Day Spotlight Series: Indigenous Women Leading the Way in Adventure Tourism

International Women’s Day Spotlight Series: Indigenous Women Leading the Way in Adventure Tourism

Across Canada, Indigenous female entrepreneurs are paving the way to create change in the outdoor adventure industry – an industry that is traditionally dominated by men. They’re working to make a deeper impact, by integrating their culture, knowledge, worldview, history and environmental practices to cultivate a thriving community-based and environmentally responsible industry.

We caught up with two of these trailblazers – who happen to be sisters – Tracey Kettl and Brenda Holder, to talk about their experience in the industry, their approach to guided Adventures, and their hope for the future of Indigenous women in the outdoor industry. 

Read on to learn more about Tracey and Brenda.

Connection to Land as a Way of Being

Tracey and Brenda grew up in Jasper National Park, and came from the Indigenous groups from the area. Their forefather, Louie Kwarakwante was Ondondaga from the 6 Nations, and had Cree wives, so culturally their people adapted the Cree culture. Brenda noted that, “My culture is based on our DNA being a part of the landscape and buried deep into the earth, those are the teachings my parents shared with me and to value nature’s gifts.”

According to Tracey, they have always had a strong connection to the land. Their grandmother, “took us out and showed us berries we could pick and some of the medicines from the plants. It was a way of being, and at that point in my life, I thought everyone had this same relationship.” Though it wasn’t always easy – Brenda recounted that her grandmother would not allow them to speak of who they were when they were in public growing up – as a family, they were taught many traditions, stories, and hard work with the provisions of the land.

Business Beginnings

Tracey and her partner Tim started Painted Warriors in 2010, combining their skills in archery, equine instruction, and experience leading programs and day camps into unique adventures for visitors. This came from them noticing a need to preserve the land-based skills that were once an integral part of their lives. Tracey says, “we worked with a lot of Indigenous youth groups and saw how they were losing their connection to the land. We realized that people from all walks of life were missing this connection, and our company grew to what it is today.” They welcome people to learn about their Indigenous culture, and facilitate connection between cultures, through outdoor activities. 

Brenda, the operator and owner of Mahikan Trails, had an entrepreneurial spirit throughout her life. Admittedly unsuited to the life of working for other people, she decided to become an entrepreneur and chose adventure tourism, “because it came naturally to me. I realized I had a lot of gifts and knowledge that most others don’t possess, and it was a natural fit for me.” She specializes in taking guests on Medicine Walks, where they learn about historical medicines from the Boreal forest from a Cree perspective. 

Approaching Guided Adventures Through Culture

For Tracey, her culture is part of every adventure experience she offers – from Bimose (stories of the forest), to Bigaamimose (snowshoe experience). She integrates an opportunity for learning and cross-cultural exchange in every experience, as “every program is done from an Indigenous perspective.” 

A similar approach is taken by Brenda as she guides medicine walks. She says, “Everything we do is based on my culture. Sharing knowledge from my grandmother, mother, father and elders. All of the medicine walks we do, are aimed to help educate people about my culture, not just a walk to look at plants, but a walk to look at plants from our eyes, to learn and understand the purpose of the plants as an important place in society. That nature is to be respected always, and how our stories form who we are. Everything is a story, every plant, animal, rock, doesn’t matter what is around you, there is a deep connection to it by stories.”

Indigenous Women in the Tourism Industry

According to Indigenous Tourism Alberta, nationally 33% of Indigenous tourism businesses are owned by women, and in Alberta that number is higher, at 49%. Both Tracey and Brenda have noticed, and are in favour of this trend. As Tracey says, “Indigenous women have really taken a leading role in tourism. I believe it is a positive way forward and brings us back into our true role as women, it is very healing.” Brenda is also celebrating, saying, “I have seen Indigenous women in particular as the fastest growing segment of the industry, outpacing men at a huge rate, that needs to be shouted from the roof!”

The future’s looking bright. Brenda hopes that this trend will continue, and that, “Indigenous Women continue to lead the way and pioneer what Indigenous tourism should be.” Tracey echoes the same – she hopes that Indigenous women will continue to build and grow in tourism as, “it connects us back to our roots and instills a sense of pride.”


Why Book an Adventure with an Indigenous Guide?

According to Brenda, there has been an interest in Indigenous tourism since she started her business, but it has increased throughout the years. Tracey notes that, “there is a real draw for Indigenous tourism, especially in light of the discoveries from the residential schools and the pandemic. People want to know the truth and, I believe, genuinely want to move forward in reconciliation and healing.” 

Booking an Adventure with an Indigenous guide is a meaningful way to learn about Turtle Island, and take steps toward reconciliation and understanding. As Brenda says, “if they wish to learn about Indigenous culture, then it is critical that they book an Indigenous guide. If they wish to spend time with a true original guide, then they should book with an Indigenous guide. If they wish to have an experience that will leave them in awe, excited, intrigued and forever changed, then an Indigenous guide can provide that in ways that may surprise them.” Tracey says that, “booking with an Indigenous guide brings a different way of seeing things, it is powerful and life changing.”

To find an Adventure with an Indigenous Guide, tap the link below.

Bimojige Hunting & Gathering Archery Experience
from $95 per explorer

View Adventure

Summer Plant Medicine Walk 
from $60 per explorer

View Adventure

People Water Land Tour
from $309 per explorer

View Adventure
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Mackenzie is passionate about connecting with our Yervana community of Locals and Explorers, and sharing their stories. Originally from the Canadian prairies, she spent three years living in Aotearoa New Zealand before settling in Kimberley, BC. She loves practicing and teaching yoga, perfecting her homemade pasta and sourdough, attempting to ski and surf, hiking, and travelling.
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