Aboriginal Tourism Ontario announces inaugural board

MANITOULIN—Aboriginal Tourism Ontario (ATO), soon to be rebranded as Indigenous Tourism Ontario, is pleased to announce its inaugural board of directors, a group that will help implement the recently updated 2020 ATO Plan. With promising findings in the plan that clearly identify how ATO can manage the future of Ontario’s indigenous tourism for communities, businesses and partners while bolstering the economy with jobs and revenue, these leaders are excited to start implementing the plan and are sure to make some exciting things happen.

The inaugural board of directors are experienced, talented, and successful leaders who have excelled at whatever task they take on. Making up the inaugural board of directors are Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee, Carol Caputo, Clio Straram, Shannin Metatawabin, Tim West, Gerry Weber and Kevin Rose. With help from international indigenous tourism leader, the Great Spirit Circle Trail, these champions plan on beginning to implement the plan this fall by beginning work on the ‘Authentic Indigenous Moments’ initiative.

Chief Patrick Madahbee and his home community, Aundeck Omni Kaning, were integral players in helping with the development of the Great Spirit Circle Trail and fully understand the importance of the implementing a strategy and plan that furthers the agenda of improving the socio-economic conditions of indigenous people. He states, “As the original tour guides of this land, indigenous people are ideal candidates to be involved in this industry and the work of ATO will benefit not only indigenous groups but also all Ontarians and Canadians. It’s a win-win-win.”

ATO was developed after a province-wide stakeholder consultation and support process funded by The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport in the Summer of 2015 that helped ATO gain solid recommendations for launching an independent organization for Ontario’s indigenous tourism sector.

“We respectfully engaged our aboriginal partners, communities, businesses, and champions to be part of this critical step in mobilizing Aboriginal Tourism Ontario,” says Kevin Eshkawkogan, CEO of the Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT), and winner of TIAO’s 2015 Tourism Champion of the Year Award for his work with ATO. Mr. Eshkawkogan has championed the ATO concept since its inception in 2008 and has been a strong advocate for indigenous tourism locally, provincially, federally, and internationally. Mr. Eshkawkogan said, “We have diligently done our homework with limited resources and now it is the time to get moving and get to doing the work. ATO can help improve the economic era we’re in. We need to put the plan into play—the time is now!”

“We at GSCT have been supporting this grassroots initiative with limited resources since 2008 because it is in our belief system to help the communal good, however, if ATO is going to work, we need to do it right, and not part time with limited resources,” Mr. Eshkawkogan. “We are experiencing positive growth in the industry and organizations like GSCT and ATO can’t provide the support the industry deserves without proper investment. Federal and provincial leadership has recognized our sector’s contribution to the economy and the time is now to further that contribution and do the work properly.”

Other provinces, such as BC and Quebec, have supported the aboriginal tourism sector with federal and provincial investments and have seen a fantastic return on that investment.

“This is what ATO wants to do in Ontario—support those involved in the industry and grow the Ontario and Canadian economies,” Mr. Eshkawkogan says. “The investment required now and over the next five years is small but will yield a major return. An investment of $6.8 million over five years in ATO provides an estimated return of $629 million into the economy. With Ontario capturing 30 percent of Canada’s total aboriginal tourism spending, there is an opportunity for our provincial and federal governments to partner and invest into the immediate needs and the long-term execution of the ATO Strategy and Business Plan.”

GSCT Chairperson, Chief Linda Debassige, recently met with Premier Kathleen Wynne to share information on GSCT, ATO and ATAC, and stated, “This is a win-win for our industry partners, businesses and most importantly, indigenous groups, Ontarians and Canadians.”

Inaugural board member Carol Caputo states, “I am so pleased to be a part of this exciting endeavour, I know how much work has gone into this by the Great Spirit Circle Trail and this entity is long overdue. With partnerships and investments being central to the ATO 2020 Plan, having the organization running will make it possible to fully participate in more meaningful dialogue and work with partners. Working with partners such as the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Regional Tourism Organizations, and the Canadian Ministry of Small Business and Tourism to engage with regional and provincial industry leaders is critical to growing the industry and economy for all. Supporting each other helps support the strategic framework for Tourism in Ontario. Working with partners like these will allow ATO to collaboratively strengthen the regional, provincial, and national economies and indigenous tourism industry.”

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has supported GSCT to further grow ATO by funding some of the engagement initiatives that included studies, interviews, completing surveys, attending sponsored webinars, regional workshops and updating of the ATO 2020 strategy and business plan.

“We are very thankful to our partners and communities that helped us with the development of our 2020 plan,” Mr. Eshkawkogan said. “This was an important step in helping us understand the needs and priorities of our stakeholders—we did this together and now is the time to support and invest in Aboriginal Tourism Ontario.”