Cultivating connection: the role of Indigenous tourism in sustainability

Annika Rautiola

20 February 2024

“For me, the value, the sustainability and the value of Indigenous tourism is about my culture, my language, my connection to the land, taking care of the land, the waters, the animals, the insects, the birds, the fish. That’s about sustainability for me so that my grandchildren can enjoy those things and see those things and have a connection to them.” – Sunrise When the Salmon Come (Cheryl Chapman), Indigenous Tourism BC


The value of Indigenous tourism is not measured in dollars or statistics, says Sunrise When the Salmon Come (Cheryl Chapman). Instead, it’s rooted in respect, understanding and a sense of connection that so many of today’s travellers crave when they visit the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region of British Columbia. 

Cheryl’s work with Indigenous Tourism BC facilitates genuine connections among travellers, Indigenous communities, and the lands where they live and visit. In this conversation, she candidly discusses the challenges of addressing colonial impacts on First Nations and teaches us how to have healing conversations. 

In this episode of Travel Beyond, you’ll learn:

  • About many kinds of stories that Indigenous communities are sharing with visitors.
  • Why creating spaces of safety and connection is vital to Indigenous storytelling and cultural exchange.
  • Cheryl’s perspective on sharing the painful history of colonization with visitors.
  • Why she defines sustainability to include culture, language, and land.
  • About interconnectedness as a value in Indigenous tourism and storytelling.
  • How to foster understanding towards reconciliation, and why prioritizing truth before reconciliation is crucial.



Content warning: This episode includes discussions of Canada’s residential school system and colonial abuses in BC.

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Show notes

Indigenous Tourism BC


Episode transcript

Cheryl Chapman: For me the value, the sustainability and the value of Indigenous tourism is about my culture, my language, my connection to the land, taking care of the land, the waters, the animals, the insects, the birds, the fish. That’s about sustainability for me so that my grandchildren can enjoy those things and see those things and have a connection to them. 

David Archer: Welcome back, everybody. This is Travel Beyond where we partner with leading destinations to bring you inspiring solutions to challenges facing communities and the planet. 

I’m David Archer from Destination Think, and I’m recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is a village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation. On this show, we look at the role of travel and highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the change makers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, and often from the bottom up.

We are always looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, and we’ve got a big list going. So be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us. You can reach me directly at david at Destination Think dot com. This episode, we’re back in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region of British Columbia, Canada. Last time, we heard from Amy Thacker, the CEO of the Regional Destination Management Organization.

And today, we’re gonna play for you a conversation that co-host Robyn Goldsmith had with a professional in Indigenous tourism. Her name is Sunrise When the Salmon Come or Cheryl Chapman. And she was gracious in sharing her very heartfelt and powerful perspective about her work in tourism. Cheryl says tourists are always seeking connection when they visit. And here, true connection requires an openness to understanding the ongoing impacts of colonization alongside the sharing of Indigenous culture.

And as we begin, I want you to be aware that this episode contains frank discussions of Canada’s residential school system and abuses stemming from colonization in British Columbia. So please take care however you need to. 

During this conversation, Cheryl mentions the 215, and so I wanna provide a little bit of context, especially for our international listeners.

The residential school system in Canada was set up by the federal government and administered by churches beginning in the 1880s, with the last schools closing in the late 1990s. Children were forcibly separated from their families, and the schools forbade them to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage or speak their languages. These boarding schools are now notorious for the abuses that took place there. And the fact that thousands of children died while attending those schools came into the spotlight in 2021. That’s when the unmarked graves of 215 children were discovered at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School, which closed in 1978. So when Cheryl references the 215, that’s what she’s talking about. 

And as you’ll hear, history like this is making its way into the public consciousness through tourism experiences, thanks to people like Cheryl and others at Indigenous Tourism BC, who are telling stories and sharing culture that has historically been suppressed or ignored. So I wanna thank Cheryl for trusting us with her story, and also for sharing her enthusiasm for tourism. Her work is enabling Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs to keep their cultures alive and make new connections between people, nations, and nature. We’re all seeking connection, she says, and Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is one place where you can find it. 

Let’s go to Robyn and Cheryl now. 

Robyn Goldsmith: So, Cheryl, could you just introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. 

Cheryl Chapman: [Speaking in Secwepemctsín.]

Hello. I’m Sunrise When the Salmon Come.

My borrowed name is Cheryl Chapman. I’m from the Xatśūll First Nation, Soda Creek Indian Band. I work for Indigenous Tourism BC. I’m the Indigenous Tourism Specialist for the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast tourism region. And I have a counterpart, which is Megan Humchitt and she’s out in Bella Bella.

So we work together to assist our Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs in creating opportunities for tourism operations that are Indigenous-led and creating space, I think, for truth-telling, enjoying those historical realities and opportunities to share our living culture.

We just have so much to share. When we think about just this area right here, we’re sitting in T’exelcemc territory or Williams Lake. And this piece right here because we’re on the north side of the creek, this is Xatśūll and Williams Lake territory.

So when we look at this area, there are opportunities for history sharing about prior to the gold rush and prior to first contact, prior to fur trading, and all of those. But there’s also stories that have come because of the trading, because of the gold rush, because of colonization. 

So we look at all the pieces as a whole and say, okay, what part of your story as an Indigenous entrepreneur or as an elder or a community member or as a community, what are the pieces that you wanna share with the guests? What’s interesting about your community and who you are and your connection to this piece of land?

Today, I did my presentation on the value of Indigenous tourism for our guests at the summit, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Summit. And I started out because last evening, we had two presentations from non-Indigenous individuals who grew up in this land in this area. And they talked about the rodeo and the history of the way of the town of Williams Lake and how it came to be. And I sat there and I went, there’s part of the story missing. So for me, it was really interesting to be able to say so I’d like to just fill in some of the blanks for you.

Do you know where the Williams Lake stampede grounds are? There’s it’s in the bowl down here at Williams Lake. That was a village site.

There were a total of seven village sites from where the current Williams Lake First Nation is all the way down to the Fraser River, down to the fishing grounds at the Fraser River, there were a total of seven communities. 

Historically, those communities became in the way of ranching and the development of Williams Lake and those things.

And the Government, in all their wisdom, took all seven of those communities and put them into one community. So that created a situation where we have the people of Williams Lake, There are seven Hereditary Chiefs there’s one from every one of the communities. 

The challenges with managing that, I honour Chief Willie Sellars and the work that he’s doing there in bringing forward that historical reality and going to court and being recognized that they had where the city of Williams Lake sits.

 That and Glendale, the archeology sites in Glendale. And when we just start talking about the archeology sites and back up the creek this way and to the mouth of the lake over here at Scout Island, if you look there was a gravesite that was at where the Britannia Mall is.

And so when they were building the Britannia Mall, they just disturbed all those grave sites and pushed all the bones over. And down here where the A&W is, they pushed the graves over and people remembered that there were full skeletons pushed over the bank and just left. So that part of the history of Williams Lake that the people don’t normally talk about or learn about. 

So how do we, as Indigenous people, Create space, claim our spaces to share that reality and those pieces of history that are often left out of mainstream history? Because of those mainstream histories, all the research that Walt Cobb did at the museum left out those pieces. 

And I think on a certain level, there’s guilt there and shame about those realities. Then if you look at the policy of the day, Indigenous people were not human beings until 1960.

So we weren’t considered in the makeup of the society until 1960. So those pieces of history as we, open our traditional books or traditional storytelling about our oral histories and those realities to the world. They’re able to learn and understand more about how we came to be where we are today. 

And we were talking about 215, the Indian residential schools in 215. My mom was at Kamloops Indian Residential School. And when I was growing up, she often told me stories about the graves, and that was the reality. And it was just what they survived.

And then when the 215 unmarked graves were confirmed – and we always say confirmed, they were not discovered – because the people were talking about them. We even have some of our elders that talked about actually digging those graves when they were at the residential So we know those stories. 

And how are we going to understanding reconciliation? And so in order to do that, we need to create our spaces for us to share those stories, to share that truth. Because you have to have truth before you can even go towards reconciliation as a group of people.

So we need to create those spaces. Sometimes we need to create those spaces ourselves like they’re doing at 108 with the Northern Secwepemc Cultural Society, and they’re developing the cultural center at 108. And they’re creating that space for their storytellers To share the history of the gold rush and the history of the 108 area and the lakes and streams there. And creating that space for their storytellers that’s safe and respectful. 

So one thing that I found sometimes, people ask the strangest questions in the strangest locations. 

When we talk about questions that come to us as Indigenous people, how do we as Indigenous people respond to that. One of the things that I find is depending on where we are in our own healing, in our own comfort level, that’s the kind of answer you get. So you can get anything from shock and awe and get away from me, I don’t want to talk to you, to can we go somewhere and have a tea? Can we go and have a chat somewhere and I’ll share my story? 

So I think that the work that we’re doing with Indigenous Tourism BC and the training programs and the storytelling and that is an opportunity to engage our community members to share their history and their stories and their beautiful realities between artisans and storytellers and historians and drummers and singers and dancers and all of these beautiful people. And all of that comes from a connection to their land. So if we’re feeling grounded and comfortable, then we can share more.

So that’s about creating that space. If I am asked a crazy question, sometimes we’ll take a deep breath and say, you know, this is not really the place to talk about that. Can we talk later or can we go somewhere else? 

Because, you know, Save On Foods, I got ask about, how we ended up with our partnership in Barkerville. And I went, Wow. That’s a 26-year-old story. And I said, can we go for coffee? And I’ll share with you how that worked. So the opportunity presents itself for us to take that deep breath because sometimes it can be a little bit nerve-wracking.

 And I always try and say remember that the guest or the person that’s asking the question is not intentionally trying to hurt your feelings. 

Robyn Goldsmith: Absolutely.

Cheryl Chapman: Some people are though.

But if we turn it around in our minds that they’re not, and we take the opportunity to educate them, then we win. I win. So it’s always about me winning.

Robyn Goldsmith: It’s a game. 

Cheryl Chapman: It’s a it’s a game for me because sometimes they will ask the question just to get a rise out of me. Because people are mean.

Some people are mean. Right? So if you turn it around on them and you have to be kinda quick sometimes to do this because you have to take that breath in and go, okay. How do I turn this so that I’m educating them, creating understanding, and having them shift or adjust their point of view or how they see something, just slightly, in order to bring about understanding. And create an opportunity then for them to walk away and go, man, I better do some research. Or, jeez, I need to maybe stop and think about how I ask a question because that could have been painful. 

So we have those opportunities as Indigenous people to share, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. Right? Because our grannies and grandpas told us these stories. They told us oral history. They gave us the knowledge to share with anybody that will listen.

And historically, we say, oh, it’s for the next generation, the next kids like our grandchildren. And now with the human reality of travel and being able to relocate and end up in somebody else’s territory. We have the opportunity to teach others, how to take care of our land, how to take care of each other, how to respond, how to ensure that we’re coming from this place, not this place. 

Because if you come from the heart and you use that sixth sense, that intuition to share what you’d like to hear and how you’d like to hear it, then it turns that around, and it creates space for a conversation and to, healing not only for myself but also for the individual who comes. Because of the things that I find that our tourists are looking for is connection.

They’re always looking for a connection. And if you can connect them even to yourself, you may not be able to connect them totally to the land because they’re only there for a day or they’re only there for an hour. You may not totally be able to give them that connection that they’re seeking. And I feel sorry for our colonial brothers and sisters who come from far away because they’re disconnected from their land.

Through wars and whatever else happened in their own personal territories, they’ve become disconnected, or they’re taught oh, you have to get an education and go out in the world and make something good of yourself.

Well, that tears you away from that connection to your land. So when I came back to this land when I was 16 and was I just felt like I was totally at home. When I was young, growing up, we’d come here all the time. In the summertime, we’d spend summers with Granny at Soda Creek and it always felt like home to me and I why do we have to leave? Oh, Dad’s got a job, we gotta go and be back, and so finally, when I was able to move to Soda Creek, it was like, okay, I’m home now. 

And then I looked around. What can I do to help our community? And I actually started by working with our elders. So I was the elders’ assistant, and I go to the elders’ houses and clean their houses for them.

And, of course, that meant I had to visit with them in storytelling, and the band staff knew what they were doing when they put me in that role. They said you need to go and learn. Like, I knew my granny’s story. I knew my grandfather’s story, but I didn’t know the stories from the other families in our community.

So in order for me to learn those things, the health manager said, okay. We need somebody to go and help the elders, clean their houses and do their dishes and things like that.

And just kinda be with them so that they’re not lonely because their families are at work and doing all these things. Right? So I would go and hang out with Auntie Laura and Auntie Evelyn down at the other end of the reserve. And the ladies would tell me stories and the history and connect me to our family tree with humor and laughter and food. They were always making me lunch and having tea and, you know, like, you have to clean the house, but we need to eat and all these things. And it gave me the chance to sit down with them and learn about their families. 

So as I got older I appreciated and respected and loved all these other families in our community because I understood them, and I understood their connection to us as our family. So, having that foundational piece and that connection to our land and our elders, our ancestors created my sense of belonging.

So we look at our Indigenous operators and our entrepreneurs, and we say to them, What is it that makes this place special to you? And how much of that are you willing to share with the tourists? Because not everything is meant to be shared.

There are certain sites and certain things that are never shared with the tourists. We know them. We honour and respect them. We keep the tourists away from them but we tell our children and tell our grandchildren, you have to take care of the space, and this is why. This is the history of it.

When people talk about sustainability, that’s part of the sustainability for me is protecting those spaces for the history portion. And when we talk about sustainability, I always laugh because the people are, well, statistically, we have this amount of money coming in and that amount of money and this amount of people, and I’m like okay. So you’re talking about the cash value of something.

For me, the value, the sustainability and the value of Indigenous tourism is about my culture, my language, my connection to the land, taking care of the land, the waters, the animals, the insects, the birds, the fish. That’s about sustainability for me so that my grandchildren can enjoy those things and see those things and have a connection to them. That value to me is way more important than cash.

And we laugh because people talk about the gold rush. Right? Well, the people were coming, they were and their millions are you know, they’re getting rich and everything. We were already rich. We had access to our four-legged animals for food and sustenance and our clothing and our tools and things like that.

We had access to our fish, which was impacted by the gold miners because they were they wanted to get to the river beds and pan for gold and dig up all these gold nuggets that to us, it was really useless. 

Robyn Goldsmith: Right? What are you gonna do with that? 

Cheryl Chapman: You can’t do anything with that. You know? And I was telling the group today, I said, you can’t make an arrow out of it because the tip ends up way too heavy, so you can’t shoot it. 

And then it might even squish when it hits the bone of the animal, so it wouldn’t even really do any damage. So, when they came looking for gold, it was really foreign to us. Like, we would use it for decoration. We used it for medicine. But we didn’t have to strip the creek beds and the mountainsides to get at it. There was flax in the creek bed that we would use for medicine and there were chunks, of course, that we’d use for decorations and jewelry and things, but we didn’t need tons of it. So it’s about taking what you need, not what you want. 

 And leaving for the next generation because we would use a little bit of gold flax, and we’d make sure to leave some on the creek bed so that Uncle Joe over there is gonna bring his wife down, and they’re gonna probably need some for their medicine, too. So we’ll leave and when we go berry picking, you don’t strip the berry bushes.

Leave some for the bears, and their friends so that they have something to eat. It’s about that balance. So how do we create tourism operations that create an understanding of the need to have that balance? We’ve been working with the government for how many years trying to create the balance. And all they were interested in was viewscapes. You go along the highway and you look up and they didn’t log right to the road because there was a consideration for viewscapes for tourists. 

I’m like, wait a minute. What about the wildlife, and the birds and our hunters and different things, there has to be more to the strategy than one piece of it. It has to be an overall strategy for the whole well-being of human beings as well as our brothers and sisters that are four-legged and swim and crawl and, fly because we’re all related.

We’re all connected. So if the water is poison, we’re all dead. If the air is contaminated, we’re all dead. So what are we doing? Like, slow down. Take a deep breath. Take it in. Get a connection to this land. Get connected to the people who’ve been looking after it for thousands and thousands of years and figure out how you become a part of that, in your own way as another human being. 

And it creates opportunities for friendships. It creates opportunities for long-term relationships that build on those things. We had a beautiful lady that used to work for Xatśūll, Miriam Schilling. 

And she came from Germany, and she started out working in the Chilcotin. And she ended up at Xatśūll, and she spoke German. So it was a great benefit to us because we got lots of German tourists. 

 And so I’m standing there speaking Secwepemctsín and she’s speaking German, so we’re able to translate around. And she became part of our team where she got that connection to our land. And she ended up buying a house just up the hill. She lives and breathes our land now and is raising her children here. So she created that attachment, to this place even though she’s from Germany.

So those are the opportunities that we have. We have tourists, and media staff that would come back every year, from Jonview and whatever, and the tour guides would make me laugh because the same tour guides would come to Xatśūll.

So that’s a connection year over year, they come back and they used to come on my birthday. Every year, they were there the weekend of my birthday, and they were from the Netherlands. And so they brought me, the shoes from Holland and, of course, they were huge. Right?

Oh, you stuff them with newspaper, and then you gotta learn to dance. So it was a cultural exchange right there at the Heritage Village. But those are the opportunities that Indigenous tourism can present as an exchange of culture. So when people come and they bring their own culture with them because each of has one. 

How do we exchange that? How do we share each other’s stories? How do we take the time to do that? that’s one of the things that I think is really sad is that a lot of times the tourists want the 2-hour tour, and they wanna know everything.

And it’s like, right on this site, for instance, there’s 30,000 years of history and use and occupancy of this site. And you want me to tell you the history in two hours. I’m a little bit panicked here.

So I’m going to give you, what do they call them? The Coles notes? You know, I’ll give you an overview of the history because there’s an opportunity if you spend a few days with us, and it’s the same with any one of our Indigenous tourism operations in Cariboo Chilcotin Coast you spend a few days at Xeni Gwet’in, or you spend a few days with, Doug Neasloss and his community out at out at the Great Bear Rainforest, you learn so much more if you’re out in Bella Bella and you spend time with the Heiltsuk. Don’t just think you’re gonna go for a day. Create an opportunity for yourself to take the time to really be a part of that community and learn about that land and the resources that have kept that community alive.

 And we have opportunities that are coming up, in Williams Lake First Nation, they make me laugh because they have a golf course right next to their powwow arbour.

And you can spend three days at their powwow and just getting to know some of the elders and eating bannock and watching the traditional dancing and hearing the songs and being a part of that while being welcomed into their land. And by the way, you can take an afternoon off, and walk over to the golf course.

 So there’s it’s diversity in our tourism operators as well. And looking at maybe the husband doesn’t want to be at the powwow all day, but he wants to come on the journey with you. Well, let him go golfing for the afternoon! I’m gonna be over at the powwow arbour. So different things that we can create, different opportunities that celebrate who we are as Indigenous people and look at today’s reality. I mean, because we didn’t stop growing too just because we were put on Indian 

I mean, I use a 30 30 when I go hunting now. I don’t use a bow and arrow. And people go, well, that’s not very traditional. I go, it is now. 

 So we always think about historically our ancestors, as new tools came available and new things were created, they changed to them, or they were traded in. Pots and pans were traded in, and it was like, oh, look at this. I can fry my bannock like this instead of putting it on a stick and holding it over the fire and burning my knuckles.

So those transitions, too, create part of the story and how we got where we are today. And it creates opportunities to link back, to a time when there wasn’t as much concrete and as much society. 

And I think a lot of people that are guests and are tourists that come, they’re looking for that. So we have the opportunity to provide that for them and have them pay us for it. That teepees, and it helps me to feed my family the things that we like to have now, or buy more beads or maybe more material for my artwork or whatever. 

So just looking at it, creating that balance, so taking what we need, not what we want. 

Robyn Goldsmith: You were, you were speaking about sort of the power of sharing that culture. One thing that I think you talked about was truth and reconciliation, and that’s a phrase that has become very popular in Canada. But I think what I hear you saying is truth, then reconciliation. 

Cheryl Chapman: Absolutely.

We always have to stop people, because a lot of the time they’re like so tell me your story. And then when you’re done telling part of the story, whatever it is, say we’re having a conversation like this.

And then if you were to stand up after this and say, okay. Let’s go make a marketing program for that. I’d be go, oh, wait a minute. That isn’t the whole story. This is only part of it. So we have to be really careful because when you’re asking about specific things, like maybe you asked about the 215 in the Indian residential school system.

And I’ve taken the time to explain to you about my own family history with the Indian residential schools and my knowledge of the confirmation of the grave sites and all of those things. And then so that’s part of my truth. That’s one piece of my truth. And then you say, okay, well, I’ve listened to your truth, now let’s work together on doing something else about their, fishing grounds or whatever. And I’m like, okay, well, that’s a different story.

So we need to stop and say, okay. So I wanna talk to you about fishing in our salmon habitat which is very near and dear to my heart because my name is Sunrise When the Salmon Come.

So for me, it’s about the sustainability of the fishery and how it’s been impacted by climate change and the ocean fisheries and the Mount Polley mine spill and the reality around the vibration of the water and the energy in the water, how it shifted when Mount Polley breach happened and and you could feel the water, the vibration in the water changed because of the chemicals and the copper and everything that flooded into the into the streams. And you think about the impact that that had on the salmon and the salmonids and all the way downstream.

And also impacted the Indigenous people whose food comes from that salmon. And then you think about, okay, the indigenous people. But what about the bears that eat the salmon? What about the coyotes? And then the bears and coyotes drag the carcasses up into the forest to help the trees grow, and the birds eat, and the squirrels and everything’s connected. 

 When we’re developing relationships and we’re talking about, creating opportunities for the future, the truth part has to be shared. And there’s an instance and an opportunity for truth-telling for every piece. The truth-telling doesn’t stop because you’ve moved to reconciliation on one When we talk about 215 and the Indian residential schools and the impacts it’s had, and we’re talking about reconciliation. How do we create opportunities for reconciliation around the residential school systems and the impacts it’s had on our communities?

Repatriation of the grave, you know, those individuals. Maybe the communities are interested in that and you’re working towards reconciliation in that area.

That’s only one that’s only one strain. So as we go along and we’re talking or we’re creating space, the space needs to be created for truth about everything. It doesn’t just go truth, reconciliation.

It’s truth and then that relationship, comfort level, conversations about how do we make it better, how do we create a better future together, how do we get to working towards reconciliation? 

So we’re always working towards reconciliation. I don’t know that we’ll ever really actually get there. There will be probably never a day in my lifetime where we will be able to say, well, we’ve reconciled that.

I don’t think there’ll ever be a date for that. There’s always time for truth-telling. So we need to take that time and work towards reconciliation the best we can, together. 


David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. And that was Robyn Goldsmith speaking with Sunrise When the Salmon Come or Cheryl Chapman from Indigenous Tourism BC. 

For show notes, visit the blog at This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and Katie Shriner provided production support.

We would like to thank the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond and for their leadership in sustainable travel. And as always, if you like what you hear, you can help more people find the same enjoyment by subscribing and by leaving a rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

See you next time.


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