The Gwich’in Tribal Council is in the early planning stages of converting its Wellness Camp into a “cultural experiential retreat” in order to increase tourist attraction to the region by offering more authentic cultural experiences to visitors.
Joy O’Neill, the economic development officer for the Gwich’in Tribal Council, announced at an Inuvik tourism stakeholders committee meeting on Feb. 7 that the organization hired a consultant earlier in the week who will recommend the appropriate cultural aspects that should be implemented at the site and will also identify any upgrades the facility needs.
“It’s something we’ll be working through quickly for February and March. This is phase one of a several stage project. This is the feasibility study,” O’Neill said. “The consultant will be able to tell us the anticipated demand, confirm global demand for this type of cultural experiential product, what areas we should market to and how we should market.”
She said that the plan is to turn the camp into a retreat that is open year-round to people from all backgrounds. Visitors would engage in various cultural activities such as fishing, preparing and consuming authentic cuisines, and receive demonstrations on trapping, dance and music.
“I think it will be a great way to grow employment, to also help the people appreciate Gwich’in culture more, both the Gwich’in and non-Gwich’in who go there,” she said. “We want to look at the possibility of it not being just for tourists, but for corporate and organizational retreats.”
O’Neill added that she sees the planned retreat as both an economic and cultural driver, as well as an opportunity to develop hospitality skills while at the same time encouraging employees to reinforce traditional cultural practices.
“We mainly see it as an opportunity to meet that mid-exchange between people who are just visiting and staying in hotels, and people who don’t really want to go out in the land,” she said. “This gives them a little bit of comfort by being in a real structure, but at the same time, offering a comfortable degree of isolation.”
The camp was developed in 2008, functioning as a healing centre for Gwich’in families and individuals who have or are currently experiencing various systemic, intergenerational traumas.
“We’ve got this asset. There’s the potential to really do something with it and make it profitable. But to also benefit so many people,” she said. “The Gwich’in that would work there, to promote culture, to bring other people in to learn about Gwich’in culture.”
She added that the idea for the retreat came after the organization felt that there was a market niche that wasn’t being addressed, specifically in terms of the absence of cultural activities for those visiting Inuvik.
“People come here and they want to do more than just stay in a hotel… a lot of times, people come to Inuvik and they stay for one or two nights. This would give them more motivation to stay longer, spend money in the region,” she said.
With CanNor funding 80 per cent of the consultant study, O’Neill said that it could be more than a year before we see the retreat up and running.
“We see it as something that can earn money. That it can be an investment that returns money to the local economy,” she said. “It is an economic driver and what’s what we hope to turn it into.”