We Are All Guests

October 30, 2020

“The word ‘quaaout’ means ‘where the sun’s rays first touch the land,'” says Quaaout Lodge room divisions manager Cammeo Goodyear on a sunny July morning. We are on an hour-long cultural walking tour of the secluded 70-room property on Secwepemc (suh-Wep-muhc) territory in Chase, B.C. My luxurious digs for the night feature an in-room jacuzzi, and I’ve snapped countless photos of Little Shuswap Lake from my balcony—but there’s more to discover.

The traditional Secwepemc people, Goodyear tells me, turned choke cherries into protein-rich travelling cakes and wove lodgepole pine leaves into waterproof baskets. “We let the grass grow freely,” she adds as we wander through unkempt, overgrown turf to the kekuli (winter home), where the Little Shuswap Lake Band community continues to meet in for gathering ceremonies and yearly powwows on community grounds.

Goodyear’s remark hints at what Candace Campo, operator and co-owner of Talaysay Tours and a Shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation member, describes as a “strong spiritual connection” to the land. “We view the land, animals and ocean as relatives,” she explains. “It’s not our right to develop the land as much as we possibly can. We take only what we need and maintain the land’s health and wellness for future generations.”

Canadian travel restrictions during COVID-19 have, obviously, been frustrating. Still, there’s something redemptive about (literally) being grounded: it’s a chance to know and love the land we live on, as Indigenous communities have done for centuries. Take Talaysay Tours’ year-round walking expeditions in Vancouver and along the Sunshine Coast, which celebrate this aspect of Indigenous culture through story, art and song. During my 90-minute Talking Trees tour at Stanley Park, guide Alfonso Salinas sings a stirring rendition of the Coast Salish Anthem (a.k.a. the Chief Dan George Prayer Song). I place my hand on a towering Douglas fir to feel its energy, taste the minty zing of a tiny western hemlock needle, and leave with a keen awareness that I am but a guest on this land. Campo captures this sentiment best: “The one thing that human beings can do is to give gratitude and respect to Mother Earth.” 

Quaaout Lodge showcases this same ethos through its innovative dishes at Jack Sam’s Restaurant. For dinner, the poached spring salmon comes with stinging nettle gnocchi—one of executive chef Chris Whittaker’s favourite ingredients due to its many health benefits—while the Pigdoosig bison striploin is served with an earthy wild-juniper sauce. “Bison has long been a traditional Indigenous food,” Whittaker shares. “I want to help represent traditional foods with respect to the land.”

Pre-pandemic, Indigenous tourism was “the fastest-growing sector in B.C.’s tourism industry,” reveals Brenda Baptiste, chair of Indigenous Tourism BC’s (ITBC) board of directors. More than 400 Indigenous tourism-related businesses exist in British Columbia alone and, while business has certainly been affected, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In fact, one way to honour and value the voices and stories of these communities in Canada is by including Indigenous-owned businesses like Quaaout Lodge and Talaysay Tours in your local travel plans. ITBC’s travel planner app, which conveys information about Indigenous accommodations, experiences and businesses, comes in handy for this very purpose.

Keeping Indigenous cultures and their connections to the land alive requires work—which is where stories come in. “Story is so important. It’s why we’re always teaching and talking,” Goodyear says, and Campo agrees.

“When people have a cultural experience with an Indigenous tour company, we’re sharing with each other,” she says. “It goes a long way for an Indigenous community to be able to make a living and earn their income not through conventional economic practices of resource extraction.” —Isabel Ong


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