Tourism minister visits Manitoulin, talks Indigenous tourism with stakeholders

The Hon. Michael Tibollo

MINDEMOYA—Newly-appointed Minister of Tourism, the Honorable Michael Tibollo, visited tourism stakeholders in Mindemoya last week, encouraging input to his ministry, especially as it pertains to Indigenous tourism.

In a move not seen in this paper’s almost 140 years of publishing, The Expositor was removed from the session when freelancer Betty Bardswich was walked out of the Mindemoya community hall by ministry staff, where the minister held his meeting. Following a complaint to the ministry about this unprecedented move, the minister did follow up with a phone interview during a stop in Brockville late last week, apologizing for what he called a ‘misunderstanding.’

Minister Tibollo told The Expositor he was learning much from the communities he visits as he travels the province.

He explained that tourism makes up four percent of Ontario’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and surpasses mining, agriculture and forestry in terms of helping Ontario’s bottom line.

“It’s a huge economic driver that represents $38 million,” Minister Tibollo added. “We started seeing that there is huge potential and that there’s more than one aspect to Ontario’s tourism,” citing such landmarks as Niagara Falls or the CN Tower as what many tourists think of when they picture Ontario. He hopes to help modify that picture, making Indigenous or francophone tourism more of a focus, as examples of changing attitudes. 

Minister Tibollo told The Expositor that he spent a lot of time on Manitoulin as a child, especially fishing.

“There are incredible opportunities, not only to increasing revenues, but to demonstrate Indigenous culture, heritage on our path to reconciliation,” the minister continued. “It’s a win-win for us to work with Indigenous people. We have a culture that’s so rich and so important.”

The minister said he’s looking forward to spending time helping the burgeoning Indigenous tourism culture blossom.

Indigenous Tourism Ontario President Kevin Eshkawkogan attended the meeting, telling The Expositor, “Indigenous Tourism Ontario encourages all Manitoulin tourism businesses to participate in the Government of Ontario’s new tourism strategy through the online consultation process that will help form the strategy.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan noted that Indigenous tourism businesses in Ontario contribute almost 30 percent of the national Indigenous tourism industry and “Manitoulin’s Indigenous tourism operators make up a huge component of this.”

“Regional groups such as the Great Spirit Circle Trail and community entities such as Wikwemikong Tourism are critical to realizing the potential of Indigenous tourism in Ontario.,” he added.

“International markets are demanding an authentic Indigenous experience when visiting Canada,” Mr. Eshkawkogan continued. “In some markets, one in three visitors to Canada want to have an Indigenous experience. As such, the Manitoulin Indigenous tourism industry has incredible potential with all tourism partners, the Great Spirit Circle Trail and Wikwemikong Tourism, collaborating to grow the industry.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan said that support for Manitoulin and Indigenous tourism in Ontario will benefit all and will help provide “economic returns previously unrealized.”

Maja Mielonen, president of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates, attended the meeting after scoring a last-minute invitation. She said she was baffled and disturbed as to why this newspaper was removed from the meeting and why other stakeholders, such as Manitoulin Streams and municipal economic development officers, had not been invited and, when they tried to register for the event, were turned away.

“It was a meeting to inform people about some funding coming down the pipes for Indigenous tourism; that’s it,” she told The Expositor in a Friday interview. “Not letting the press in? That’s just undemocratic.”