International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC)

Where nations meet: 2024 International Indigenous Tourism Conference

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From February 26 to 28, 2024, 1000 delegates gathered in Ottawa, which is situated on unceded Algonquin Anishinabeg Territory, for the 2024 International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC). IITC is the largest international Indigenous tourism conference in the world and is hosted by the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).

Indigenous communities from Turtle Island (also known as North America and in some Indigenous communities is used to refer to Earth as a whole) and beyond met in downtown Ottawa’s Shaw Centre for an unforgettable three-day event. 

This year’s IITC theme was “Where Nations Meet,” a fitting nod to Ottawa's three rivers and the diversity of folks who arrived for the 2024 conference. The convergence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers has served as a gathering place for Indigenous communities for thousands of years — and this year, hundreds of international delegates from Colombia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Finland and beyond connected in Ottawa.

The Shaw Centre, winner of “World’s Best Convention Centre” in 2020 by the International Association of Convention Centres, was the ideal place to host IITC. The space is dedicated to fostering an inclusive atmosphere for Indigenous events. Recognizing the cultural importance of traditions like smudging, their security team closely monitors fire panels to facilitate seamless smudging ceremonies. Their Event Services team also collaborates with event organizers to designate specific spaces for elders and drumming. Continuing their mission to honour Indigenous cultures, they recently partnered with Indigenous chefs for this conference, integrating traditional foods into their culinary offerings.

The space offers incredibly welcoming staff, flexible meeting spaces without columns and a 200-degree view of Canada’s capital. The building, situated in the heart of the downtown core, is also LEED Gold-certified, a certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that verifies the facility has enhanced efficiency and low carbon emissions. The beauty, accessibility and flexibility of the venue was the perfect backdrop for unforgettable memories of authentic Indigenous experiences, knowledge-sharing and newfound friendships.

The week began with several engaging cultural tours. Delegates explored local Indigenous tourism firsthand with a complimentary ticket for an Indigenous tour. Delegates had a variety of options to choose from, including Indigenous Walks, a walk and talk through downtown Ottawa with an Indigenous lens and a Medicine Bag workshop at Makatew Workshops where delegates crafted a sacred traditional item.

This year’s welcome reception was hosted by Ottawa Tourism and brought to life through culinary storytelling at the Shaw Centre. The event, named Taste of Turtle Island, featured First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Indigenous American and Mexican chefs who crafted incredible plates alongside stunning entertainment such as hoop dancing and musical performances. Delegates were delighted with dishes such as a Three Sisters Taco, smoked elk with candied winter plums and elderberry syrup, sugar-dusted Bannock and more.

With a full day of listening and learning ahead, delegates enjoyed breakfast before the Grand Entry and Protocol Welcome, a ceremonial processional entrance used in many Indigenous ceremonies to begin events. ITAC’s keynote, Vision 2030 kicked off the schedule of sessions with an outline of their goals for the year, as well as an introduction to their strategy to become a world leader in Indigenous tourism by 2030.

A panel followed with national leaders discussing the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, “Canada 365.” This strategy, which was announced in 2023, marks the first time Indigenous tourism was named a pillar. Other sessions included topics such as emergency preparedness in tourism and how to put reconciliation into action. Air Canada also hosted an Indigenous Youth Empowerment panel that was highly praised by attendees and featured Ottawa’s very own, Jayde Micah, co-owner of Beandigen Café, an Anishinaabe-owned and operated cafe, Indigenous art boutique and event space at Lansdowne Park.

The lively atmosphere continued during breaks and interludes between sessions also featured Indigenous cultural entertainment such as throat singing.

Throughout the conference, attendees could also visit the Artisan Marketplace to browse a variety of pieces crafted by Indigenous artisans. From paintings to beaded earrings to delicious pastries infused with maple, sea buckthorn and sweet clover, attendees were inspired by Indigenous talent just steps away from sessions.

The final day of the conference featured a hilariously engaging Keynote by Drew Hayden Taylor about Indigenous humour. Breakout sessions focused on topics such as cultural appreciation versus appropriation, best practices in advancing international Indigenous-led tourism and how to use modern media with traditional storytelling.

In the evening, folks stepped into the Shaw Centre’s Canada Hall to the bold beats of award-winning DJ Shubb for the Indigenous Tourism Awards & Gala

The closing event was a heartfelt opportunity to recognize industry trailblazers and celebrate Indigenous tourism excellence in Canada. Innovative businesses, dedicated tourism associations, epic entrepreneurs and awe-inspiring people were nominated across nine categories. The crowd was electric, encapsulating the spirited energy that remained throughout the three-day occasion. 

Through laughter, learning and listening, the 2024 International Indigenous Tourism Conference contributed to critical conversations about Indigenous perspectives and Indigenous tourism. By sharing stories and knowledge, the three-day agenda was an engaging event that is sure to enhance the visitor experience around the globe. 

Ottawa Tourism says miigwetch (“thank you” in Anishinabe) to local Indigenous tour operators, business owners, storytellers and visitors. Ottawa is honored to have learned more about the importance of Indigenous tourism in our community by hosting this event.

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