The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is excited to acknowledge and raise awareness on gender equality for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021. Each year people, organizations, businesses, and governments recognize the challenges and successes in building a gender-equal world. However, this is not an easy task, and the objective of IWD is to continue advocating for measurable and meaningful changes to ensure gender equality is realized in many sectors and social systems.

This year’s theme is #choosetochallenge, where the challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day, and collectively we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the increase in challenges that women and girls face because of COVID-19. Organizations like the UN General Assembly have highlighted the work that still needs to be done in the journey to gender equality in a post-pandemic world. Additionally, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to leave no one behind, yet, the 20-year review in 2015 revealed that Indigenous women across the world continue to face disproportionate levels of discrimination, exclusion, and violence both as women and as members of Indigenous communities. Removing structural barriers is fundamental to their realization of Sustainable Development Goal #5 – on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Today ITAC is choosing to challenge the gender equalities faced by Indigenous women within the tourism industry and celebrate those who have smashed some of those gender barriers. So, what does gender equality look like within the Indigenous Tourism sector? How do we, at ITAC, recognize our Indigenous women and elevate their voices and positions within leadership. We sat down with our Director of Business Development, Teresa Ryder, to hear about her career journey, her thoughts on gender equality, and what she believes to be the ingredients for success in reaching positions of leadership as an Indigenous woman within the tourism industry.

Theresa Rider

As the Director of Business Development, Teresa is responsible for overseeing the development and stability of Indigenous tourism associations across Canada as well as product development and grant initiatives to support Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs and Indigenous communities investing in tourism. In 2020, Teresa led the $16 million Stimulus Development Grant program for ITAC – an effort made to stabilize more than 675 Indigenous tourism operators as they navigated the loss of travellers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She has also overseen the growth of the International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC) – the largest Indigenous tourism conference in the world. Teresa currently sits as a board of directors for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada where she advocates alongside national tourism professionals for tourism.

Q. Share your story of how you became the Director of Business Development for a National Indigenous Not-For-Profit? What were some of the most pivotal moments of your career journey?

Well, I have spent my career, professional career, in Indigenous tourism. After university, my intention was to work a summer at Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC), to give me some time to help figure out what I was going to do with my criminology degree, which I earned at Simon Fraser University. But as the summer progressed, I fell in love with the people, the stories that were being shared, and the culture….and the connections that I made. It made me feel included and like it was a natural fit. I had worked in hospitality and customer service before and really it felt like all my worlds were coming into one. Which led to me working at ITBC for about 5 years.

Then I heard about an opportunity to work with the national Indigenous tourism association (ITAC) – and that kind of felt like the next step for me, the next natural progression in my career. I knew that there were other parts of the country that had the opportunity to grow and diversify tourism products. Indigenous tourism in BC is well established, but there were other parts of the country that could grow. So, I decided to accept the position at ITAC!

Some of the pivotal moments of the journey were the opportunities to manage some really significant projects. It is a nice way to put a bow of my career, for example, a project in Stanley Park and another that comes to mind is co-managing the Indigenous tourism conference that ITAC hosts each year in different locations across Canada. It grew to this really great and exciting international conference where we have been able to meet people across the world. These experiences have really brought me to where I am today and bring so much excitement into my career.

Q. As a tourism professional you must have some interesting travel stories yourself! Can you share a few places and/or people that have left a lasting impact?

I feel like I could tell travel stories for days! One of the very unique opportunities of this job is to experience parts of this country- if not for my career in tourism. I think of some really impactful moments, for example, the first time I went to Haida Gwaii. It was transformational. The energy of the place was unbelievable – I also think about the hospitality of the people and their openness and willingness to share their culture and stories with me, it was so meaningful. It opened my eyes as a traveller. I knew that I was going to a place that not many people have ever been to, and I remember how special it was and how grateful I felt! I remember standing and looking out on a balcony and only seeing the ocean, it made me feel so small and taking a big breath as the waves came in-it was so grounding.

Another great experience was going to Iqaluit in Nunavut – I was there for a conference, but I was part of a participatory experience, where they were teaching us how to throat sing, and they shared the meaning behind throat singing was. It was my first time being up north and trying throat singing, haha, and again it was about the culture and their spirit – their willingness to share is so impressive. It was also the smaller moments, sitting in my hotel room and looking across the bay and thinking about how different life up there was. Again, experiencing the vastness of the arctic and taking everything in as a moment in time – again feeling small. I feel like every place I go really has those opportunities. These places, Indigenous lands, reminds me of how lucky we are to witness these moments of culture, wilderness, and space that are so beautiful.

Q. How does it feel to work with industry partners and tourism businesses across Canada? What are some of the positive experiences and relationships that come to mind?

There has been an awakening and shift of perspective and a willingness to understand what it means to reconcile with Indigenous people and what it means to have a meaningful relationship. There are days that feel fatiguing, where I feel like I am the only Indigenous person at the table. But I have learned ways to work through that and manage expectations, it’s almost walking between two worlds I guess – which I understand because I am both Indigenous and non-Indigenous: being from Musqueam and Irish descent.

Some of the positive experiences that come to mind are from IITC – that conference has changed perspectives, like the conference in Kelowna, BC – where the CEO of a regional tourism association came up to me and said that he has never witnessed a space where people, who are considered competitors, come together to share their successes and details about their operations and ways of doing business. I think that the entire industry wants to see everyone succeed – there is a lot of room to share information and knowledge and I think in general our sector wants to see others be successful. We are a family, and we understand the importance of supporting each other because everyone has a unique take or perspective across the country.

Some of the relationships that come to mind, we have a really amazing network of tourism associations that come together and work collectively. Then I think about some of our non-Indigenous partners and relationships like Travel Manitoba, who have long term goals, and are committed to Indigenous tourism. I see this as a positive relationship because of their commitment to learning Indigenous practices.

Q. This year’s theme for IWD is #choosetochallenge, where a challenging world is an alert world – we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. How do you think this theme is incorporated within the Indigenous tourism industry?

I think the world is becoming more aware- it’s awakening. I feel like the ability to challenge inequality – not having good representation at board tables, Indigenous people in positions of power. I think that the world is getting better at understanding how to better overcome some of those inequalities such as calling out when organizations do not have indigenous people and women at the decision-making tables, asking non-Indigenous people to do better and decolonize and calling out when there is not enough young people or youth.

I think that the openness and willingness to adapt is there, and of course, it’s not perfect but the willingness to recognize where the gaps exist is there so that we can see more diverse and inclusive tables or conversations. It seems to be the trend that I am seeing – whether it’s perfect, I don’t think we can say that yet but I think the conversations are being had; that’s really important! Working towards those goals, and making positive strides towards recognizing the inequalities in the industry is important. It is about awareness and then making those changes.

I saw an interesting presentation on the state of our industry- and it was explained to us that women are disproportionality leaving their jobs, regardless of if they are the breadwinners or in leadership roles in their careers, but they are leaving their jobs to take on more home responsibilities because of the increased pressure of covid-19 and the family life. It is a little bit worrisome for me, I think we have fought so hard to get where we are, and in terms of tourism and hospitality there are a lot of women who work on the front line, that work in management, and hold CEO roles in tourism. I think that we can’t lose our footing, we’ve come so far. I do think it is important to find space for BIPOC, women, and youth to have their voices heard and elevated especially during this uncertain time.

Q. What recommendations would you have for female travellers and travel professionals who are interested in building their leadership skills and roles and overcoming barriers?

It’s a big question but I feel like it’s about owning your space, as a traveller I like to go into a space and really soak it all in and appreciate the uniqueness of the spaces I am visiting. Then it’s about pushing my boundaries a bit beyond what makes me feel comfortable, whether that is exploring a place independently or pushing my boundaries about learning not to be afraid.

I feel like that can translate into the board room or professional world. It’s about claiming the space that is yours and making sure people know who you are and taking part in the conversation. Holding to your identity as an Indigenous woman. I don’t think there are many people who don’t know who I am in this space – as an Indigenous woman with the tourism sector. That comes with a certain level of knowledge, expertise, and commitment to the community I represent.

There was a time in my career where I wasn’t as confident in standing on that – but I realized that it’s ok to stand with those identities and really embody them. I don’t think I should be the only woman sitting at a table with only men, and I don’t think it’s ok to have only one Indigenous person at the table especially if the conversation is about Indigenous people and the growth of the tourism sector in Canada. It’s sometimes about pushing those boundaries and being confident – and that will make some people uncomfortable. As I said, it’s about owning that space and claiming that space – it’s yours.

Q. What does it feel like to work as a woman in such a complex and interesting industry, describe this in three words?

Opportunity– I think the industry has given me so much opportunity. Many women in my career have supported me. I think about when I first started working in restaurants – these women pushed me to refine my skills and really mentored me. And you know, sitting down with my aunties and family so they could help me grow in my tourism career was a great advantage, and it is moments like these that I am so grateful for.

Pride– I am really proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a woman and as an Indigenous woman. Being able to show the potential of someone like me in the professional world. You know I never really considered tourism as a career choice, but I see where I have gone with it and it makes me so proud.

Adventure– This career path has allowed me to take advantage of so many experiences! From having to figure out a tourism strategy with several partners, to understanding complex flight connections. There is so much to explore and space to expand myself in this sector, I feel like that sense of adventure has made this career fulfilling. To go out to a city you’ve never been to – to where one day you’re in heels and in meetings and the next in gumboots on a fishing boat. There is always a change of pace and it really speaks to my sense of adventure!

Q. What kind of legacy do you want to leave on the tourism industry?

I am very passionate about the potential of youth in Indigenous tourism and youth seeing themselves in tourism as a career. But I see the potential for transformative change within communities where youth are engaged in their culture, having meaningful jobs at home so they don’t have to leave, and they can stay connected with people who will foster a positive impact in their lives.

Tourism is such a great opportunity to tell our stories – with travellers, to locals (whatever that looks like). So as a legacy, I hope that youth coming up, especially young ladies who are joining the workforce can see that they can grow and have a meaningful career as I have experienced. I hope that my story can inspire others to join our industry and really impact change for future generations.

“Nothing about us, without us”, and “everything about us, with us!” That was the message that we heard from the Indigenous Women in 2013 Lima, ahead of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Women. Despite the challenges in gender inequality, Indigenous women are determined to live by example, as active agents of change, rather than passive recipients of development. As one of the most thriving economic activities of the 21st century, tourism is not only well placed to contribute to Indigenous people in improving their livelihoods, but also a thriving sector for Indigenous people to own and operate tourism businesses and support the development of the Indigenous tourism industry. If managed responsibly and sustainably, Indigenous tourism spurs cultural interaction and revival, bolsters employment, alleviates poverty, curbs rural flight migration, empowers local communities, especially women and youth, encourages tourism product diversification, and allows people to retain their relationship with the land and nurtures a sense of pride.

Genevieve Huneault

Genevieve Huneault is the Development Coordinator for ITAC and is a sustainable and regenerative tourism specialist. Over the last decade she has committed her professional career to supporting social and environmental justice and development within the tourism industry in Canada. She is also an avid traveler, and has had the privilege of traveling to over 23 countries.