Why Canada Is Infusing Business Meetings With Indigenous Culture 

Indigenous Canadian plays the drum

Skift Take

Sustainability in the meetings and events industry is not often linked to a cultural and social focus. However, Destination Canada Business Events is changing that. 

When most hear the word sustainability in the meetings and events industry, most don’t think of a cultural and social focus. Destination Canada Business Events team is changing that. 

Instead of avoiding the grim legacy of Canada’s effort to erase its Indigenous culture, travel and tourism have an important role to play on the path to reconciliation. 

In the country, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has stated that the church-run residential schools that Indigenous families were forced to send their children to were a form of cultural genocide. They operated from 1883 to 1996, and last year new technology led to the discovery of human remains, mostly children, on the grounds of three of these former schools in Canada. 

Prior to the second ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, a day honoring the lost Indigenous children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities, Destination Canada’s Business Events team gathered a group of meeting and event planners in London, England for an educational evening. 

Matricia Bauer, a member of the Warrior Women collective and an Indigenous drumming group, was a special guest on hand to engage with the group. Bauer was one of the thousands of Indigenous children in Canada removed from her family to be raised by non-Indigenous families. The upbringing separated her from her heritage, leading Bauer to reconnect in her own way through a process of decolonization and Indigenization. Warrior Women is an initiative focusing on Indigenous education and engagement for all ages through school visits, guided experiences, workshops, fireside chats, and Wapakwanis plant walks in and around Jasper. In singing, drumming, teaching, and storytelling, Bauer looks to “Indigenize the world — one drum beat at a time.”

A group of 60 meeting and incentive planners gathered to hear Bauer’s story. Destination Canada did not censor Bauer in any way. 

“We are not proud of this part of our history, but we are not going to hide it in any way. We are trying to bridge the gap and help those who have been through these atrocities. One way we can assist is by making their culture sustainable and helping them tell their story,” said Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, executive director, business events, Destination Canada. “If they stay sustainable financially and economically, their culture will thrive.”

One of the focuses of the evening was how reconciliation and cultural sustainability could be incorporated into business meetings and incentive events. For example, tours led by Indigenous people, workshops, locally-crafted gifts, sharing circles led by an elder, and a welcome smudging ceremony — can all be incorporated into meetings and incentives.

This event was held in London this year as it is one of Canada’s important markets. Plans are for it to be held in New York in 2023. 

“Providing a platform for Indigenous Peoples to reclaim their own stories within business events is one way organizations can ensure that the true history of Canada is being shared,” explains Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). “This important action is part of the path to reconciliation, ensuring the distinct Indigenous cultures found in what is now known as Canada, are not just being represented on international stages, but also celebrated.”

The two organizations work hand-in-hand. “Destination Canada works alongside the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and authentically implements the decolonization of common corporate practices. As an Indigenous-led organization, ITAC is an invaluable leader in uplifting Indigenous experiences and communities from coast to coast to coast.”

Photo credit: Baz Seal / Destination Canada