Lillooet's First Nations tourist operations need more training and organization to grow, according to a provincewide tourism promoter.
The Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. (AtBC) brought several travel writers to Lillooet Sept. 12 to introduce them to local First Nations tourist attractions. The stop was part of a press junket from the coast to the southwest Interior, through the Cariboo, and back again.
Arriving in the afternoon, the group sampled the St'at'imc Cultural Experience at T'it'q'et and the Bridge River Experience.
They spent the night at Retasket Lodge.
Although the AtBC group was due for their first activity at 12:30 p.m., they were unable to find the St'at'imc Cultural Experience site.
Eventually, Colin Inalsingh, of the Upper St'at'imc Language, Culture, and Education Society, tracked down AtBC's lost van, which had headed towards Bridge River instead of T'it'q'et. Inalsingh escorted the group to the correct location.
The St'at'imc Cultural Experience portion of their tour finally began at about 1:30 p.m.
Upon their arrival at T'it'q'et, the visitors were greeted with the traditional St'at'imc welcome song by local performance group, Zumak7'ul.
Ted Napoleon, one of Zumak7'ul's members, explained their name means "spring salmon" in St'at'imcets, the local native language.
Zumak7'ul performed several songs and dances near and inside the T'it'q'et s7istken, or pit house, at one point calling for the audience to join in the dancing.
They explained to the writers that in addition to their own traditional customs, the St'at'imc had also adopted the powwow, dancing regalia, and other customs from the natives of the Prairies.
Napoleon said, "We compose songs in our language and we also compose songs in other languages taught to us by our teachers."
When asked for his thoughts on aboriginal tourism, he said, "They're helping us to support our culture."
Napoleon explained that the performers were usually living their "ordinary, daily life" but the tours gave them an opportunity and occasion to share St'at'imc culture with others.
Daniel Wells, one of the dancers, also noted that the tours and performances elsewhere gave them a chance to distinguish the St'at'imc from other First Nations.
"We can prove we're each an individual."
The AtBC group then made its way to the Bridge River Experience. They toured the Bridge River fishing rocks, walked through the pit house site near the Xwisten band, and saw how wind-dried salmon is prepared.
Paula Amos, operations and membership co-ordinator with AtBC, said she had sampled the tours years ago, soon after they began. "They were testing their product," she recalled.
Since her last visit, Amos said she felt the tours had improved in quality and content.
"I didn't see the dance performances so that was new for me.
"They all show good aspects of the culture," said Amos, who noted AtBC felt they were interesting enough to bring to the attention of media.
As for the execution, however, "It still needs to be polished somewhat."
"I think having a central person handling all the products would make it much easier for visitors." She suggested offering the tours as a package. "Put it together. Give it a catchy name."
Drawing from her own experience, she also said, "What they need is a centrally located spot (where tourists can be led or taken to attractions). That would just make it much easier for a visitor to come.
"I can just see a frustrated visitor keep driving."
Inalsingh is currently working on a proposal for First Nations tourism operations to work together when looking for funding and for administrative purposes.
Amos praised his enthusiasm. "He seems pretty keen to get things going."
She said she hoped to work with Inalsingh to train locals to Tourism B.C. standards and promote the tours in the AtBC brochure.
"There's really good potential herefor aboriginal tourism."