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GAUGING THE IMPACT OF OPPORTUNITY:
An Analysis of Sustainable Ecotourism in
Cape Breton Native Communities
There is increasing recognition that tourism development can lead to both the degradation and benefit of cultural and ecological systems. Choosing the most appropriate development path is complicated but vital in order to avoid possible environmental, social and cultural degradation. Unfortunately, the determination of degradation or benefit is subject to personal interpretations that can vary significantly within a geographic area and culture, and are also influenced by a variety of external factors. The challenge in tourism development is to accommodate differences and coexisting natural and cultural priorities in order to sustainably promote the industry.
On Cape Breton Island this challenge is particularly evident. Currently, the potential exists to promote numerous cultural experiences (i.e. Native, Gaelic, French, and British history/culture), in addition to traditional tourism pursuits that focus on physical attractions. The maintenance of equity between varying groups will be different, yet critical if tourism that markets culture, is to be legitimate. This issue is of concern because conventional tourism management systems based primarily on economic and business considerations, are being questioned (Murphy 1983). Public awareness and demand for tourism alternatives is growing, and in turn culture and environment are increasingly regarded as tourism assets.
The World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly referred to as the Bruntland Commission, called for "The incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge and Practices in resource management"(OCF 1987), in order for development to be sustainable. Within the tourism sector this requirement is readily accommodated by emerging alternatives like ecotourism that foster the principles of sustainable living in harmony with the natural world. This is traditionally a North American Native philosophy.
When considering this type of tourism for the Native Mi'kmaq community on Cape Breton Island, a group seriously marked by economic depression, employment opportunities are a primary interest. Indeed, few would argue there is a need for economic development on the reserves in Cape Breton, currently averaging unemployment rates in excess of 80 percent (Charles Bernard, 1993), but it is important to visualize beyond immediate employment benefits to the possible environmental and social gains characteristic of properly managed tourism development. Short term planning that threatens the current and future environmental and cultural integrity of a given area must be avoided.
The tourism industry has experienced phenomenal growth over the last 40 years. Fuelled by jumbo jet engines, communication technology, increasing awareness, and a market characterized by growing affluence, tourism is now considered to be the world's largest industry (Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation 1994). By the year 2005, tourism is expected to more than double its current gross output to $7.9 trillion; generate 90 percent more jobs; approximately triple its capital investment to $41.7 trillion; and attract more than half the current level of consumer spending (Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation 1994).
It is safe to make the assumption that the trend in tourism will continue, including an even greater growth in particular alternative types of tourism. This is evident in the increasing frequency of both economic and academic analyses. That tourism is important, is indisputable. What tourism is, especially to the Mi'kmaq community, remains questionable. With this paper I hope to address this issue. I intend to introduce the terms associated with tourism, specifically ecotourism, in a discussion of the parallels between the Native belief system and this emerging tourism alternative. Secondly, I plan to introduce the Cape Breton Bands that have the potential for the development of nature-based industry and, finally, I hope to review some constraints and cautions related to this type of development.
TOWARD A DEFINITION OF ECOTOURISM
Tourism is a fascinating phenomenon, elusively undefinable, yet pervasive. Its presence can be felt practically everywhere around the globe. It is therefore puzzling that no definitive tourism terminology has been developed. This is in part because tourism lacks an official product, and presently cannot be compared with other industries in a traditional economic sense. Tucker and Sandberg 1988 have elaborated on this point even further:
Tourism is not an industry in the conventional sense, as there is no single product process, no homogeneous product, and no locally defined market.
The industry is plagued by questions regarding its validity. In turn, this ambiguity has filtered down to influence all industry subsets. Such uncertainty is cause for concern, as it can directly affect potential funding and visitor satisfaction levels. The situation, however, is not void of solution. Presently the Canadian Tourism Industry is leading the field in developing tourism satellite accounting that will allow the industry to be compared with other, more traditional, industries (i.e. the automobile industry) (Lapierre/Hayes 1994).
I mention this confusion, not to begin my paper with uncertainty, but to responsibly introduce the industry's potential and its current difficulties and constraints. No form of tourism, including ecotourism, should be considered a "Wonder Industry", synonymous with the concept of sustainability. Instead, all forms should be welcomed cautiously as possible components of sustainability.
The World Tourism Organization (1993) defines tourism as comprising "the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year ...." Others assert that tourism encompasses anyone who travels and spends money (Bullario 1991). Still other definitions that strive to include those who work within the industry, state that tourism is the sum relationship of tourists, business suppliers, host governments, and host communities in the process of attracting tourists and other visitors. Within the industry itself there are even more varying definitions of tourist, traveller, and visitor, each with their own terminology.
Subsets of the tourism industry, including ecotourism, appear equally ambiguous. Many terms are used interchangeably with ecotourism. Various definitions are based on personal values (i.e. alternative tourism, and responsible tourism), and others are nature based (i.e. nature tourism, and outdoor tourism). Other literature refers to ecotourism as any sort of tourism with a natural component. Although it is dangerous to generalize, considering the complex nature of the industry, ecotourism can basically be defined as "responsible travel that conserves the natural environment and sustains the well being of local people". (The Ecotourism Society 1991). Among the many contrasts in the ecotourism literature, the following distinctions are noted by the International Resources Group (1992) as the most important:
Natural History Travel bird watching, wildlife viewing, student and teacher training, volunteer programs, photographic expeditions or botanical and other special interest travel related to the visit of natural areas;
Adventure Travel that requires physical stamina and/or courage (hiking, camping, kayaking, rafting, diving, and similar activities done in the natural environment);
Anthropological Travel visiting and/or living with different cultures, or assisting at an archaeological site.
Why has there been such a growth in tourism activities throughout the world? The supposed "boom" in the industry has often been attributed to the increasing demand for activities that allow people to escape from complicated environments that are often considered depressing and demoralizing (Pleumarom 1994). In fact, today tourism remains for most people an escapist activity: sunbathing, relaxation, and socializing. Contrarily, the ecotourism industry is not based on escapism, but rather on enrichment, tied quite directly to market increases in income, education levels, and environmental awareness.
Whether the industry has become aware of environmental issues, or if it is simply responding to demand, is unknown. Regardless of the motive for awareness, the results are quite clear. People are travelling to enrich their lives. They want their travel experiences to be ecologically and socially responsible. The challenge for ecotourism is to provide this experience, without degrees of "eco hypocrisy". Already it is impossible to deny that so called "ecotourism operations" are being managed by individuals with little or no concern for their natural or social environment. The sad fact is that currently "eco anything" sells.
Every traveller, regardless of their prior experiences, has certain expectations about future tourism activities. The uncertainty of definition, particularly with ecotourism, can lead to serious visitor dissatisfaction, and negative ecological and social impacts. I would argue that ecotourism is even more vulnerable to the demand of tourist expectations because often the experience is based on personal emotions and feeling, more so than with a traditional tourism experience, that has readily available information on expected commodities (i.e. hotel accommodation).
Ecotourism can best be understood and defined in reference to specific geographic locations. For example, in the Amazon River Basin the ecotourism experience would be dramatically different from potential ecotourism activities along the Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton. Similarly, ecotourism with an indigenous group in Africa would be different from ecotourism with a Mi'kmaq community in Cape Breton. For ecotourism, like any tourism experience, the test is to promote an experience based on realism. Fortunately, this is made easier if one considers the unique travel characteristics of the ecotourist.
There are various significant distinctions between the travel motivations of ecotourists versus average travellers. Eagles (1992) determined the top 33 motivational factors for Canadian ecotourists and ranked them on motivations that were significantly more important to the ecotourist, or significantly less important to the general travelling population. Of particular interest, when considering tourism development on Cape Breton Mi'kmaq reserves, was the desire to see the following: wilderness and undisturbed areas (ranked #1), lakes and streams (#2), mountains (#4), ocean sides (#8), a simpler lifestyle (#10), cultural activities (#14), and the desire to rediscover self (#16).
In combination with such motivational preferences are the high levels of education and financial position characteristic of Canadian ecotourists (Eagles/Cascagnette 1992). Such results were noted by Eagles (1992) to be representative of the ecotourist population throughout North America and Western Europe. These characteristics suggest that the ecotourist demands more of a natural experience and is sensitive to the culture of the area.
POTENTIAL TOURISM BENEFITS FOR THE MI'KMAQ COMMUNITY
Cape Breton Island is home to five Native Bands: Membertou, Eskasoni, Chapel Island, Whycocomagh (Whycobagh), and Wagmatcook. With the exception of Membertou, all the Bands are located within the coastal zone of the Bras d'Or Lakes and have the natural resources to allow for the development of nature-based industry. Their location along the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes makes them an important dimension of Cape Breton's Cabot Trail, and heightens their focus and market potential.
Eskasoni is by far the largest of the reserves with a geographic area of 3514.6 hectares and an on-reserve population of approximately three thousand. Whycocomagh, Chapel Island, and Wagmatcook are much smaller, with on-reserve populations ranging between 500 and 600, based on 1995 statistics from the Department of Indian and Northern Development (DIAND). Of these reserves, Mi'kmaq is the predominant language. An average of 85 percent of Natives living on the Bras d'Or Lakes reserves report Mi'kmaq to be their mother tongue (1991 census data). Unlike many reserves that have lost their language through contact and assimilation, the Bras d'Or Lakes Bands have managed to maintain a great deal of their cultural diversity.
Each reserve has latent tourism commodities. All have pow-wow activities throughout the summer months. Of particular interest is the Chapel Island Reserve, which serves as the centrepiece for the annual Maritime Provinces and State of Main Indigenous people's pow-wow. Further, there are numerous craft and souvenir shops that have the potential for increased sales. An additional asset to ecotourism development is the physical beauty of the area. Several forms of boating, hiking, camping, and nature viewing, have the potential for development. Incorporated into such tours could be the introduction to Native history, culture, and resource management philosophies.
In addition to the possible economic benefits mentioned previously, there are a number of positive social considerations supporting tourism development, including cultural preservation. Currently, Native culture is eroding due to reasons ranging from language barriers to a disrespect for traditional ways (Wolfe et al 1994). Native elders have had increasing difficulty translating their wisdom to younger generations. In turn, there has been a loss of culture. Although this is particularly an urban phenomenon, it is not absent from rural Native communities. Loss of Native culture is an explosive social issue in all Native communities.
Research throughout North American Native communities has concluded that many young people do not know how to approach elders and that elders appear unaware of this. Consequently there has been no passing on of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Further, this phenomenon has seriously affected the application of traditional Native beliefs, based strongly on concepts of inheritance, elder wisdom, and sustainable living (Schulte-Tenkhoff 1988). This is not just a North American Native occurrence, however. Generally, within modern western technical society, communities based on oral-based knowledge systems are subject to drastic losses. The role that tourism can play in cultural preservation for the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq community is certainly intriguing, and will be discussed in more detail later in this paper.
CULTURAL CONCERNS OF ECOTOURISM DEVELOPMENT
In every encounter of peoples there is of course the possibility for the parties involved to influence each other. There are numerous examples of how cultural encounters between peoples have resulted in the assimilation of the host group or community. Therefore, a focus of development should be on cultural consciousness and resilience, in combination with economics. The statement, that tourism is a type of `Economic Cultural Dialogue', is simply unsound. Tourists are rarely in a host community for a sufficient period of time to truly experience cross-cultural sharing. Even ecotourists with their different motivations and knowledge cannot be considered harmless. It has in fact been argued that it is precisely because ecotourism concentrates so intensely on fragile natural and cultural systems that it can be more destructive than traditional tourism (Scace et al 1992).
Those who support the industry believe that trips are culturally enriching, fostering a better understanding between peoples. Yet I argue that every culture that is "Discovered" is only that which is demonstrated, that is, the aspects that are most profitable. Thanks to photographs, tourists are able to say they "know the culture or the area" (Rossel 1988). Unfortunately, this is often the case in developing countries, characterized by foreign multinational companies with little or no concern for the host society other than by how it may influence the company profit margin. Cape Breton Reserves, although admittedly not in the Third World, are essentially developing as a Third World society emersed with a first world market economy (Weick 1992). Therefore I suspect that the potential ecotourism development in Native communities in Cape Breton could be subject to similar exploitative development, evident of tourism development in the Third World.
Tourism that concentrates on underprivileged groups, be it their culture or physical surroundings, is further threatening and disturbing considering the differences between tourist and host. It is a sad realization that this world tends to consist of people who have exploitable resources and people who can exploit resources. In such unequal relationships, not unlike the Native and non-Native relationship, there are certain moral development obligations necessary to control for the possibility of exploitation. According to Henry Lickers of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, these obligations must include equity, empowerment, and respect, if the Native/non-Native relationship in Canada is to improve economically and socially. It is in this context of evident disparity that the issues of culture tourism, in a broader ecotourism arena, take on ever important roles to the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq community.
The historical causes for the present Native situation are many, and far too complicated to analyse in this introductory paper, but it is important to note that approximately 500 years of non-Native exploitation in what is now Nova Scotia, has directly influenced the current economic and social situation on reserves, and has negatively influenced on and off Reserve relationships. These issues cloud any development planning, and particularly complicate ecotourism development, as it is so dependent on community cultural attributes.
With the promotion of culture through industry it is made more popular. The potential exists to utilize tourism as a method of maintaining and strengthening culture. Alongside tourism marketing could be the development of more extensive hard copy culture (i.e. books, articles, music, art, CDROMs). The fear is, of course, that such production will lead to the commodification of culture (King/Stewart 1995). Traditional Native villages are particularly prone to commodification, as tourists take token photos next to token "Indians". It has been suggested that the optimal method of maintaining the balance between marketing and promoting culture is through respect and education. Learning vacations are emerging forms of tourism that could present an educated portrayal of Native life. They are increasing in popularity, marketing to the "Enrichment" demand to offer less damaging tourism experiences.
Whether tourism enriches or degrades a particular culture is a subjective determination. The judgements differ between those of the host and visitor group and within the two groups themselves. The crucial detail to note is that regardless of the consequence, it is not the visiting group that must absorb these effects. The host community will absorb all effects, both beneficial and detrimental. The most equitable solution to this issue is the incorporation of Native local level management systems that promote community development.
Local participation is an important component of sustainable development and of ecotourism specifically. The idea that tourism aids in economic development is hardly novel. The idea of sustainable tourism development, however, is relatively new. It has emerged out of modern thinking on sustainability, first publicly brought forth by the Bruntland Commission in 1987.
Local economic development is differentiated from industrial development on various levels: the community input, the source of investment, information analysis and transfer, and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit. From a community perspective, development calls for:
Broad-based community input;
Economic strategies owned and shaped by the community themselves;
A decentralized implementation of responsibility (Bryant 1991).
Unlike the traditional tourism industry that is generally funded and managed from outside sources with little to no community participation, other than through employment opportunities, ecotourism is seen in more of a local development perspective. Certainly, ecotourism can be managed from outside the community and it can even take on the appearance of industrial development, but it is in nature, local participatory and small scale. The following characteristics of ecotourism defined by Booker (1994) present ecotourism as it qualifies in the local arena:
Ecotourism is based on the assessment of local, natural, cultural and human resources;
Ecotourism is premised on developing the natural and cultural aspects of a particular community for sustainable purposes;
Ecotourism is based on the concept of preserving the natural and cultural environment in contrast to exploitation that has been associated with traditional tourism;
Ecotourists like to use local resources and local expertise, which therefore lends itself to local initiatives;
By nature, ecotourism is intended to be small scale, requiring minimal investment, offering an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurship;
Ecotourism by definition is community based.
The goal of ecotourism then is the sustainable development of the tourism industry considering the limitations and sensitivities characteristic of the area visited. This industry should promote its goals as ingredients of total community goals. The question at this point is how to determine those goals as defined by the Native community on Cape Breton Island.
CONSTRAINTS TO ECOTOURISM DEVELOPMENT
There are intense economic pressures for people in marginalized economies to exploit their natural resources. Tourism is not immune to these pressures. As mentioned in the introduction, no form of tourism development is to be regarded as a solution to all that ails an area. Although ecotourism does present positive alternatives to traditional tourism development it has definite constraints. Brooker (1994) lists the following constraints of ecotourism development:
Ecotourism does not provide the same capital as traditional tourism. Although ecotourists are characterized by affluence, little money is spent in tourist destinations, compared to the volume of consumerism associated with traditional tourism;
The marketing of ecotourism is difficult, considering the undefined market and high percentage of small operators;
There is a recognized lack of industry leadership, both provincially and nationally. In many ways this is directly related to the rapid expansion and the ad hoc development characteristic of ecotourism;
The skill required to offer a valid ecotour is often beyond the present human resource capabilities of many areas;
Social and natural carrying capacity is a greater constraint in ecotourism than traditional tourism.
The constraints to this development are many. Economic inequity, insufficient infrastructure, and a general lack of planning strategy can postpone development indefinitely. I argue that these constraining barriers are surmountable, and that tourism development need not be negative. Local development that concentrates on small-scale projects, developed in conjunction with other groups, is perhaps the most secure path to follow, at least initially, when considering Native development initiatives.
ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT CANADA
Failing a complete shift in the current economic paradigm, the objective of the tourism industry will always be to achieve a marketable business. Increasingly though, it is argued that by seeing tourism only as a resource-based activity evaluated by economic type criteria, there is danger of undermining its very existence. In response to this new thinking, Tourism Canada, in conjunction with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, had launched an initiative on national sustainable tourism, that represents the balance between tourism development and the maintenance of the natural and cultural environment (Murphy 1983). Although this was not specifically designed to manage ecotourism, certain components of the national strategy pledge to support the concept of sustainable development in numerous economic activities.
Recently, the Canadian Tourism Commission announced that its newest development program, Aboriginal Tourism Marketing, is on track and successful in promoting an increased awareness in Aboriginal Tourism, at home and abroad (CTC, 1995). In addition, the Canadian National Aboriginal Tourism Association is also expanding to include more than 2,100 aboriginal tourism businesses across Canada (CNATA, 1995). In Ontario alone, an average of 75 percent of First Nations who responded to a provincial survey stated that tourism was a positive economic component of their communities (Kapas 1992).
Throughout Western Canada, Ontario and Quebec, Native awareness and promotion of culture is growing rapidly, in many cases utilizing the Internet for promotion and communication purposes. To date, this tool has not been utilized by First National communities in the Atlantic Region. There are no Mi'kmaq home pages. With the notable exception of the Mi'kmaq trail information existing as part of the Louisbourg page, Mi'kmaq is only mentioned on DIAND fact sheets and government publications. This opportunity must not continue to be ignored.
Currently, the Province of Nova Scotia is involved in drafting a provincial nature tourism strategy. The province has stated its mission to:
Encourage nature tourism as a vital component of the Nova Scotia tourism economy, through initiatives that will foster conservation and management, sustainable development and use, and increased public awareness of nature tourism resources.
Nova Scotia has chosen to use the term nature tourism instead of ecotourism. It is hoped that this term will increase understanding and promote the legitimacy of the industry. Regardless of the chosen terminology, the strategy will be helpful to determine marketing and industry criteria.
Finally, on Cape Breton Island, interest in tourism development is represented by tourism conferences and increasing recognition of the industry by the Economic Cape Breton Corporation. Further, the University College of Cape Breton continues the tradition of forming partnerships with individuals and the private sector, demonstrated by the development of a course proposal on Natural History for entrepreneurship and tourism. Clearly, the topic of sustainable environmental and socially conscious tourism is extensive.
Throughout this paper perhaps the most recurring concept is that of potential. Potential does exist for tourism development on Native reserves in Cape Breton, and I would suspect on Reserves throughout Canada. Although this industry is not to be regarded as the solution to the Native economic predicament, it does present the potential for alternative patterns of growth. It is perhaps the most optimal method to achieve stewardship and strike the balance between conservation and economic development. For the Mi'kmaq community, ecotourism presents the following possibilities:
First and foremost, recognizing the economic situation - possible employment;
A method of cultural enhancement, being aware of the threat of commodification;
Community participation, ownership, and stewardship, leading hopefully to empowerment;
Increased networking between indigenous groups throughout Canada and the World, conceivably through the use of the Internet;
An open opportunity to express and share Native management systems;
A possible initial resolution arena;
And finally, a framework for future community ecologic and cultural management.
Throughout the research for this paper, admittedly only scratching the surface, I have discovered many inconsistencies in reference to both tourism and ecotourism, ranging from definition to application. Further colouring the theme of this paper are the numerous ideological distinctions between Native and non-Native culture that directly and indirectly influence perception, attitude, and methodology.
I conclude that I am somewhat of an optimist in my belief that ecotourism, in its truest form, can employ traditional Native philosophies of sustainability, in the utilization of both natural and cultural resources. This optimism is in part a result of being able to question what type of approach will be most successful, recognizing that traditional Euro-Canadian thinking is not necessarily best. I continue to be intrigued by ecotourism, because it is an economic alternative that is sensitive to more than simply profit. I suspect few economic alternatives on reserves in the past have been so attractive.
Bernard, Charles J. Jr., 1993. "Mawiwo'kutinej - Let's Talk Together". Report to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People's Intervenor Participation Program, Sydney: Union of Nova Scotia Indians, 1993, p. 12.
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Bullario, J., 1991. "Recreational Tourism: Peace in our Time!" J. Zeiger and L. Caneday (eds.), Tourism and Leisure: Dynamics and Diversity. Alexandria, Virginia: National Recreation & Parks Association, p. 72.
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Lickers, Henry. Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, quoted from `Water and First Nations'. A conference held at the Woodland Cultural Centre, 6 Nations Reserve, 12 October 1995.
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is now considered to be the
World's Largest Industry:
By the year 2005, tourism is expected to more than double its current gross output to $7.9 Trillion;
Generate 90 percent more jobs;
Approximately triple its current capital investment to $41.7 Trillion;
And attract more than half the current level of consumer spending.
(Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation 1994)
(Source: Eagles 1992)
Wilderness and undisturbed areas 3.94 -23.40 1 Lakes and streams 3.68 -16.46 2 Be physically active 3.39 -16.07 3 Mountains 3.32 -14.56 4 National or Provincial Parks 3.41 -14.33 5 Wxperience new lifestyles 2.89 -13.22 6 Rural areas 3.18 -12.59 7 Oceanside 3.32 -12.34 8 Meet people with similar interests 3.33 -12.17 9 Simpler Lifestyle 2.79 -12.01 10 Visit historical places 2.79 11.85 11 Outdoor recreation 3.12 -11.00 12 Be daring and adventurous 2.51 -10.61 13 Cultural activities 2.71 -10.44 14 See maximum in time available 3.24 -9.95 15 Rediscover self 2.47 -7.95 16 Change from a busy job 3.06 -8.81 17 Local crafts 2.66 -8.53 18 Historic sites and parks 2.79 -8.25 19 Reduced fares 2.47 -7.95 20 Thrills and excitement 2.55 -7.01 21 Museums, art galleries 2.42 -6.59 22 Budget accommodation 2.62 -5.68 23 Escape from the demands of life 2.52 -5.32 24 Participate in sports 1.91 -5.30 25 Try new foods 2.18 -5.27 26 Have fun, be entertained 2.92 -5.09 27 Smaller towns, villages 2.56 -4.53 28 Local festivals and events 2.28 -4.23 29 Go places friends have not been 1.84 -3.83 30 Inexpensive meals 2.63 -3.77 31 Talk about trip after return 2.30 -3.57 32 Live theatres and musicals 1.85 -2.20 33
by the Louisbourg Heritage Society
© Louisbourg Institute
Extracted from the Proceedings of the Cape Breton
in Transition Conference, October 20-21, 1995