The three-day Aboriginal Cultural Festival taking place in downtown Victoria this weekend is highlighting a thriving tourism industry in B.C., say organizers.
B.C. is likely "leading the world" in aboriginal tourism development and the industry grew 22 per cent in 2013 alone, said Keith Henry, CEO of Aboriginal Tourism B.C.
"People really want to know the story: what is the real history of this province before 1867," he said. "They also want to know the benefits are going back to the local communities as much as they can, and I think that driving force is really why aboriginal tourism is growing."
Aboriginal Tourism B.C. numbers show the industry resulted in $45 million in direct spending last year. Henry and his colleagues returned earlier this month from a trade show in Shanghai, and they're working with nearly 150 First Nations to develop tourism draws for their individual communities, Henry said.
"We've got another 192 businesses in development. It's significant for jobs and for real revenues for the communities."
Henry said the acceptance of tourism in some First Nations communities has been slow on the uptake, but many are realizing their culture can be presented honestly to the benefit of all.
"There was (initially) a fear that maybe communities were commercializing their culture, but they see it can be done in a respectful manner," he said.
Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam, a sponsor of this weekend's festival, said he's never seen so much collaboration between provincial and regional partners to foster aboriginal tourism and to celebrate First Nations culture.
"(This festival) is something I have wanted for a long time," he said. "There was the First Peoples festival that used to happen in the Inner Harbour, and will happen again this year, but this event has included so much consultation. We want to make this an annual event."
Sandy Pratt, the RBCM's vice president of business development, said the museum is hosting the festival on its grounds to support a "shared vision" of aboriginal partnership.
The coinciding launch of the Royal B.C. Museum's Our Living Languages exhibition this weekend highlights the 203 First Nations, 34 languages and 61 distinct dialects that make up the collective B.C. aboriginal culture.
The Aboriginal Cultural Festival takes place today and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the Royal B.C. Museum grounds. The event features local and travelling dancers, singers, artisans and traditional First Nations cuisine.