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City Hall - indigenous monument

Indigenous Walks: Educating Through Storytelling

Ottawa is a place of convergence, a tourism hotspot for national and international travellers alike; a place where all walks of life come to learn about Canada—its history, politics, art, culture, architecture and more.

But Jaime Morse from Indigenous Walks believes there’s a key component of the city’s heritage that’s missing: its Indigenous stories and their cultural significance in the region. It’s become her mission to bring those stories to light to help residents and visitors see the city from a different perspective.

“We’re still finding ourselves after a tumble through colonial policies. When we’re telling these stories, we can connect them all and create a bigger, clearer picture of our histories.”

Jaime is a proud Métis originally from Lac la Biche, a Buffalo Lake Métis settlement in Alberta. Today, she works at the National Gallery in Ottawa as an educator. She’s held the role since 2013, and with a background in Canadian studies and art, it’s been a perfect fit. Over the years, she’s proudly led tours at the Gallery for First Nations youth, sharing Indigenous stories with the next generation. But she started to notice many adults taking an interest and listening to her teachings, too. This signaled a broad appetite for First Nations culture, and it planted the seed for a rewarding new tourism venture.

Magnifying Ottawa with an Indigenous lens

In 2014, Jaime launched Indigenous Walks to educate others about Canada’s social, political and cultural issues using Ottawa’s monuments, landscapes, architecture and art. During her tours, she highlights landmarks like Parliament Hill and Lansdowne Park through an Indigenous lens, uncovering stories that participants might not otherwise be aware of.

Operating in Canada’s capital, her tours attract school groups, tour groups as well as government bodies and business professionals. For those already familiar with Ottawa, her goal is to show them a side of the city they’ve yet to experience. Colonial history is often the focus, but that’s only part of the story. Jaime also touches on the significance of Indigenous sculptures, artwork, medicine and more.

“I really want people to get a better understanding of Indigenous Ottawa.”

Jaime includes First Nations’ storytellers, or spot talkers, on the tours to bring personal experiences to the lessons shared. This adds depth to the stories and brings multiple voices into the conversation, leaving participants with a greater understanding of the impact colonialism has had on Indigenous communities.

Jaime is also adamant about mentoring younger guides and giving them a thorough education on the history they’re passing along. Jaime takes responsibility for teaching First Nations youth the stories that are no longer common knowledge, as they are an important part of their culture. In turn, she encourages her guides to draw from firsthand experiences and make their own connections to the narrative.

Jaime believes her tours offer a distinct learning experience that can't be replicated. No tour is the same, even though the routes often remain consistent; as the stories evolve and the city changes, so too does Indigenous Walks. Unlike reading a book or watching a movie, which are often individually experienced activities, her tours bring people together in groups, creating a safe place to learn about Indigenous culture. As well, the act of walking brings a unique physical element to the experience, keeping participants engaged throughout.

“When you’re walking on a tour, you become a participant – not just a passive observer.”

Building trust with different Indigenous communities

As a Métis guiding others through Algonquin territory, Jaime is careful not to tell stories that don’t belong to her. Instead, she established a partnership with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Cultural Centre, which allows her to bring Anishinaabe storytellers on her tours and have them share their own stories and experiences.

That in mind, Jaime advises Indigenous entrepreneurs to seek permission from other First Nations’ communities before adding their stories to their offers and experiences.

“...there is a balance of protocols and how we take care of the stories we find and that we ask for.”

She urges Indigenous entrepreneurs to be authentic and genuine in their efforts to share Indigenous culture. The stories told are very personal to those they originate from, which is why gaining support from other First Nations’ communities and their elders is so important. Strong relationships and partnerships are based on trust, especially those in business, and they must be handled with care.

Jaime also encourages new entrepreneurs to remain faithful and to trust themselves. She speaks to herself as much as others when she says, “be brave and jump in with both feet. Success has an element of courage.”

This article was written for the Indigenous Tourism Entrepreneurship Training (ITET) project developed by Ottawa Tourism and Algonquin College, made possible through funding from the Government of Canada. To learn more about ITET please visit www.storytotell.ca.  

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