Yukon First Nations are planning ways to offer authentic cultural experiences for visitors.

The plan to bolster cultural tourism among the Yukon First Nations has been in the works for a while, but this week people from across the Yukon Territory are getting together for a conference in Whitehorse to discuss ways to strengthen this kind of tourism in the communities.

The conference, called Sharing Our Stories, takes place Nov. 18 to 20 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. It will explore the opportunities and challenges involved with developing cultural tourism in First Nations communities.

“The time is right for cultural experiences,” says Shirlee Frost, president of the First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, which is hosting the conference.

“Imagine if you could take some people on a river tour in your part of the world, where you were born and grew up, and teach them and show them what it’s like: the peace, the quiet, the beauty. It’ll touch their soul. And hopefully they can travel back to their part of the world and touch other souls.”

Currently, the communities offer a variety of opportunities to experience First Nation culture, from museums to heritage centres to festivals to art shows to wilderness experiences. However, Frost says there is a need for the communities to get organized and collaborate on bolstering cultural tourism. Currently there is no unified effort to promote the unique traditions of the different First Nations in the Yukon.

“Well, it’s non-existent,” she says. “If you look in the travel guides, it’s little snippets here and there. So we want to build on that. We also want to offer authentic experiences to visitors who come to our territories.”

The way Frost is looking at it, bolstering cultural tourism goes beyond showing visitors a good time. It goes beyond the opportunity for youth in the communities to showcase their beading-carving-painting-dancing skills. And it goes beyond channeling more dollars into the communities.

She sees a need for change and a need for more love and compassion in the world – and by sharing their stories and culture First Nations have an opportunity to have a positive impact.

“The reason I do what I do is to help create a world that is more loving and supportive of all of creation,” Frost says. “If we’re able to do that through our organization and by sharing our stories, – even just to plant these tiny seeds – it’s worth the effort.”

The conference has a focus on creating authentic cultural experience, and for Frost, there is a sacred responsibility at the heart of First Nation culture.

“We must try to do our ultimate responsibility in this life, in this world, as indigenous peoples: to create balance and harmony in all facets of our lives,” she says. “It’s also to commune with nature, and live in appreciation and honour of that. The Creator gave us intelligence and voice to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak – including future generations.

“When you have this type of sacred responsibility, you have no choice but to be humbled in all of that – in our ability to create change.”

Among the attendees from across the Yukon will be Lisa Dewhurst, business and marketing manager with the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre. She says the conference is a good idea.

“The biggest thing is that as cultural centres across the Yukon we are definitely growing along with the tourism sector… so getting together, networking and sharing what we’ve done with our own centre (in Teslin) is a great way to support one another,” says Dewhurst, who is Interior Salish from British Columbia. Her husband is Tlingit.

She views cultural centres in the communities as having a positive impact on the residents, in addition to being a focal point for visitors.

“Having a cultural centre in the communities nurtures art an culture in the community, instills pride and it’s a place where our artwork is displayed – so it provides more opportunities for citizens to participate,” Dewhurst says.

Through keynote speakers, panel discussions, cultural mapping and cultural programming, the conference will be an opportunity for the communities to collaborate and support each other in showcasing their unique traditions.

The Sharing Our Stories Conference takes place Nov. 18 to 20 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse. For more information go to www.yfnct.ca.