JP Gladu on How Indigenous Tourism Helps Power Economic Reconciliation


JP Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), is Anishinaabe from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a member of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek located on the eastern shores of Lake Nipigon. He coined the term “economic reconciliation”: the idea that creating meaningful partnerships and mutually beneficial opportunities for both Indigenous and non–Indigenous people is central to reconciliation across nations. We talked to him about his passion for his community and how travel and tourism can help achieve economic reconciliation.

November 20, 2019
A photograph of JP Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, wearing a suit with a purple tie and glasses.

JP Gladu
President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB)

enRoute You coined the term “economic reconciliation.” How do you think tourism and travel might factor into achieving that?

JP Gladu I think about economic reconciliation in this way: it will be achieved when our communities are no longer managing poverty, as we have had to do for a very long time, and can start managing wealth. Before you manage wealth, you have to generate wealth. The way you do that is by leveraging your assets, which are your people, your land and your innovation.

When we think about the land and tourism, the Creator isn’t making any more land, so we need to protect what’s necessary, and responsibly develop the other parts of the land that we can. We also have to make sure that Indigenous communities are fully integrated into the way that we develop our land, whether that’s through tourism or otherwise.

I like to remind people that Canada’s first economic engine was powered by our people. We had technology that was apropos at the time. We still have medicines and traditional knowledge on our land that are in use today. We were Canada’s first entrepreneurs who fuelled a global trade to Europe — the fur trade. So, our knowledge of the land is very important.

A shot from high above of a forested area with a winding river running through it.
A hazy shot of a lake with a small beach in the foreground and forested hills further back; in the distance you can see two people walking hand-in-hand on the beach and a lone figure, seated, looking out at the water.
Lake Nipigon.   Photo: Destination Ontario
A beach at Lake Nipigon.    Photo: Destination Ontario

ER What are some of the Indigenous tourism initiatives you are excited about?

JG One that I can reflect on – and it’s just developing – is, if you look at the Rock (Newfoundland), there’s a Mi’kmaq community in Flat Bay, and they have a beautiful entrepreneurial spirit. I haven’t managed to get out there yet – this country is so big – but I’ve seen photographs and it looks stunning.

They are trying to create an Indigenous village scenario for tourism. And I think that’s very important for a place where colonialism really took root, on the east coast. There are a lot of horrific stories of the Mi’kmaq people being hunted down, and terrible, terrible disease that wiped out members of the community. So to have a resurgence of the culture through a business lens, to share and to rebuild relationships that way, is really key. I think Canadians who have not had the opportunity to really visit communities and engage with the people are kind of missing out.

I read the enRoute article about the Huu–ay–aht of Vancouver Island, and the empowerment of that community. And I think that it does that in two ways: feeling proud of your culture and being able to share that with the world, and having the world pay attention and want to soak that up and learn more about you, and your nation, culture and practices. Feeling acknowledged – for any human being, that’s really important.

A restaurant with four framed pieces of Indigenous Canadian art in black frames on a red wall, with diners in the foreground.
A waiter holding a dish filled with pink noodles, cheese crumble and beets from The Birch Bite
Salmon n’ Bannock.   Photo: Azra Rashid
The Birch Bite.

ER Any tips for those visiting (or living in) Canadian cities?

JG For folks that are living in the big cities, the Indigenous culinary world is really coming to the forefront, and there are some amazing restaurants. Here in Toronto, for instance, there’s Ku–Kum – it means grandmother – Pow Wow Cafe and NishDish. In Kitigan Zibi, north of Ottawa, there’s The Birch Bite. In Vancouver, one of my favourite restaurants is Salmon n’ Bannock, run by an Indigenous woman. So these are all Indigenous chefs. And it’s a way to again express culture through food. And who doesn’t like good food? So if you are in a big city, seek out an Indigenous restaurant. They are wonderful places.

The tip of an orange kayak sitting in the water points toward verdant green mountains.
Ocean House, Haida Gwaii.   Photo: Kyler Vos

ER Who are some of the people and what are some of the places that mean the most to you in Canada?

JG One person that comes to mind is Kylik Kisoun Taylor. He’s from Tundra North Tours. He was our Indigenous Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winner this year. I’ve actually not been up there yet, but I can’t wait to go. The time that I spent with Kylik and the videos that I’ve seen of what he does as an Inuk person sharing his culture with southerners is quite remarkable.

I’ve been to Haida Gwaii, and it’s a special place for me. When I was there I was able to spend time with the watchmen and understand the culture and the protection of the land, and the intersection of their culture and the people that come to experience it in such a remarkably beautiful place. They have an Ocean House luxury fly–in lodge in Peel Inlet, and that’s another one that’s on my bucket list.

But another place that’s special to me – and it’s really my home – is just outside of Thunder Bay, in the palisades when you drive north of Nipigon to where my First Nation is located. It’s fully protected other than a few First Nations and a couple of public access points. It is stunning territory. All you do is fly to Thunder Bay, and then you drive for two hours. It’s very accessible for a lot of Canadians that have to be conscious of their budget.