First Annual B.C. Aboriginal Awards part of Weetama 2002 

Awards recognize excellence for provincial operators

As part of a move to award excellence in Aboriginal tourism, the first annual B.C. Aboriginal Awards will be held in Whistler on Aug. 12.

Categories at the awards show, which will be presented in an evening ceremony include: Inspirational Leadership, Strength in Marketing, Power of Education, Young Adult Achievement, Tourism Conservation, and Excellence in Customer Service.

The new awards show is the result of a partnership between Tourism Whistler’s Weetama event (Aug. 12-18), and the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (ATBC), established 1996.

"We are thrilled that the Aboriginal Tourism Association has chosen Tourism Whistler’s Weetama Festival to showcase its first-ever industry awards ceremony. There are great synergies between the two events," said Gwen Young, manager festivals experience, Tourism Whistler.

With 120 members and 25 members that are "market ready" in operation in the province, the ATBC provides marketing assistance for new aboriginal businesses.

Members currently include Barkerville Historical Town, Ma-Mook Development Corporation, and Waas Eco-Cultural Adventures.

"We want to bring out awareness of aboriginal tourism, and especially because Whistler is a busy place for tourism," says project co-ordinator Paula Amos.

She sees the Weetama festival as a good showcase for nominees.

"The board of directors was looking for a way to recognize Aboriginal tourism operators," says Amos.

The awards show fit the bill.

Justin George has spent four years as manager with business nominee Takaya Tours of North Vancouver, owned by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

"We’re more honoured than anything," says George.

"There’s so many wonderful aboriginal tour operators in the industry, and we see it as a great vehicle to create unique experiences.

"It’s also critical (for us) to be networking in the tourism industry."

Their business idea developed from his time spent as a researcher in the band’s Traditional Use Study, where he talked to elders and other members of the Aboriginal community.

From that study, their vision was "to share the culture and (use) tourism as a vehicle to share Aboriginal culture."

Over at Tofino’s Himwitsa Native Art Gallery, owner and nominee Louis George was surprised when he received the call.

Although they are independent of the Association, Louis George agrees the nomination is useful in attracting further business to his art gallery and adjoining lodge accommodation.

"A lot of visitors come to the West Coast, and they want to see native art – but a lot of the galleries are not native-owned. It’s really a big selling point for us," says George, who feels the nomination adds to the exposure.

Other nominees include the Desert Heritage Park in Osoyoos, run by the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation, which received a nomination for Inspirational Leadership.

Whalewatching Boat Tours, run by Cindy Dennis, also received a nomination.

Weetama is Whistler’s annual celebration of Aboriginal culture, and includes the Squamish Nation to the south, and the Lil’wat Nation to the north of Whistler.

Additional festivities during the week-long event include a traditional sweat ceremony (on Aug. 14), and a traditional Aboriginal feast.

Blues songwriter and guitarist George Leach, from the nearby Sta'atl'imx Nation, also performs.

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