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Foodways reflect the who, what, where, when, why, and how of food. In other words, foodways shed light on the physical, social, cultural, economic, and spiritual factors that inform peoples’ experiences of food. The history, heritage, and culture of Indigenous food in Canada is as varied as the ways in which it is grown, harvested, produced, prepared, shared, and enjoyed. However, Indigenous foodways are connected by a diversity of nation- and community-based food cultures and traditions that share several common roots.
For example, the ancestral and contemporary relationships that Indigenous Peoples, their nations, and their communities maintain with their traditional territories are manifest by the central role that locally sourced foods have in their diets. In fact, many Indigenous food cultures continue to be intrinsically linked to locally-sourced ingredients through traditions and practices that have sustained, and in some cases continue to sustain, Indigenous Peoples today, such as foraging, cultivating, hunting, and gathering. Similarly, many Indigenous Peoples and their communities have cultural, political, economic, and spiritual protocols for harvesting, preparing, and consuming traditional foodstuffs. As such, the sharing of foods, stories, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) are defining characteristics of Indigenous food.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action recognizes Indigenous cultures as a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and it is important for Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO) to support the strengthening, sharing, and continuation of Indigenous Peoples’ traditions around food and associated foodways. It is ITO’s position that the development of Indigenous food tourism represents a key economic opportunity for communities in Northern Ontario to bring people together in a communal fashion to learn about and experience Indigenous foodways. ITO also believes that as Indigenous food tourism businesses in Northern Ontario share their stories, they will join scholars, community leaders, and members in continuing to shape, celebrate, and strengthen Indigenous food in Canada, and abroad.
STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
To start, there is tremendous potential for Indigenous food tourism to grow as rapidly as Indigenous tourism is growing, and the statistics around Indigenous tourism in Ontario can help us to understand what this growth opportunity may look like for communities in Northern Ontario.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport reported in 2014 that there were 160,000 visits to Indigenous tourism businesses in Ontario, and this represents 0.1% of total visits to Ontario. These same visitors spent $76M, or 0.3% of total visitor spend. This higher percentage of visitor-spend compared to total visits points to the economic value of Indigenous tourism in the province. It signals a key opportunity to grow the number of visitors to Indigenous tourism businesses through strong product offerings that include Indigenous food experiences.
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