Two Indigenous Yellowknife tourism operators have been selected to receive a $10,000 grant from WestJet and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).
Aurora Village and North Star Adventures are among nine companies chosen for the grant, which showcase Indigenous culture and history, “an important and developing sector of Canadian tourism,” WestJet and ITAC stated in a joint news release.
The Indigenous tourism businesses that received the grants will also be spotlighted on WestJet’s social channels over the next year.
Joe Bailey, owner of North Star Adventures, said the grant came as a surprise when he opened his email to discover the news.
For WestJet “a nationally recognized reputable company” to “see the value that Indigenous tourism contributes nationally is very promising,” Bailey said.
Through the tough times of the ongoing pandemic and accompanying travel restrictions, he said his company is trying to catch up with monthly expenses and that “as soon as we get the money, it’s gone.”
Without further government support or news of borders reopening, Bailey said having to close North Star Adventures’ doors would be a likely scenario.
The company has already begun liquidated assets, but Bailey fears selling off too much and no longer having the equipment necessary to carry out tours. With the Premier scheduled to announce updates to the Emerging Wisely plan for economic recovery in the coming days, he’s waiting to see if there’s any more funding allocated to the tourism sector.
If the government were to announce a date a for the border to reopen, Bailey said that would be enough to allow his company to accept advance bookings and collect payments to stay open. If not, he hopes staycationers will consider booking North Star to experience “the wonders of our Dene culture.”
For the 100th anniversary of Treaty 11, North Star will be taking travellers to the Deh Cho to join in the celebrations. He said the tours always engage the communities to support local arts and craft shops and hear from Elders and guides from the communities themselves.
Though North Star, established in 2007, is in “situation critical,” Bailey said the company respects the government’s decision to keep borders closed since “the welfare of the people is first and foremost.”
“At the same time,” Bailey said, “if the government is going to keep borders closed, maybe they should look at providing more assistance.”
If nothing changes by July, Bailey said closing up shop seems imminent. While taking visitors out onto the land and showcasing Dene culture through North Star has been his dream, he acknowledged that “things change and businesses fail.”
“I hate to say it but at what point do you realize you can’t have continued government intervention,” he said. “It’s up to businesses to react and reinvent yourself.”
The funding was announced to grant recipients in March and made public on May 26. The other seven operators include Indigenous-owned companies in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna, Gatineau and Roxboro, Que.