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May/June 2011

At the heart of Arviat’s tourism product is the community’s strong cultural heritage. Demonstrations and performances featuring Inuit skills and traditions, story telling, music and dance are offered in various combinations to provide anything from a half-day to a three-day program for visitors. This may include visits to a traditional tupik (skin tent) and/or an iglu, dog-sled rides, boat excursions to a National Historic Site, mini-expeditions out on the land by skidoo or ATV, demonstrations of Inuit survival skills, visits with artists and story-tellers, opportunities to buy local arts and crafts (soapstone carvings, jewellery, sealskin mitts, etc.), films and lectures on Inuit history, throat-singing and drum-dancing spectacles, participation in high school cultural programs, a chance to sit down over tea with local Inuit elders, plus dining on caribou, musk ox and Arctic char. It will be cultural tourism of the highest quality available in Nunavut.

While Inuit culture is the heart of ACE, the big drawing cards sure to bring tourists to Arviat are polar bears and caribou.

  • 20,000 people come to Churchill every year, primarily to see the bears — some of those will go the extra mile to see polar bears in a more natural setting, with the added bonus of experiencing Inuit culture.
  • Every spring, Arviat has a unique opportunity to show visitors the massive caribou migration that passes by just inland from the community.

These are two world-class wildlife-viewing opportunities in themselves, made that much more attractive by the chance to experience first-hand the strong cultural heritage that remains vibrant in Arviat.

Tour operators in Churchill, sport-fishing and hunting camps west of Arviat, local outfitters, and wildlife-viewing lodges in northern Manitoba have all indicated interest in delivering groups of their guests to the Arviat cultural program, perhaps for a one-day program, sometimes for overnight visits. Arviat is nearly ready to begin operating a remote mobile camp for the caribou migration experience. And in the longer term, Arviat will develop its own wildlife-viewing lodge, removed from but accessed through the community. All of these operations will feed the community cultural program — that is the concept upon which ACE is founded.

Over the past year, under contract with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA), significant application of land claims Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement (IIBA) funding has been dedicated to the ACE initiative: local capacity building, product development and marketing.

The Tourism Company, one of the top tourism-consulting firms in Canada, is facilitating the process. Mike Robbins, project manager, was part of the team who did the original community-based tourism plans in Nunavut in the 1980s. The Tourism Company team of experts has arranged grassroots training in hospitality, eco-guide services, small boat safety, photography, cooking for visitors, book-keeping for small businesses, heritage interpretive presentation, event planning and performance staging, and much more. Guillaume Saladin, director of Igloolik’s renowned ArtCirq troupe, is helping Arviat to create a professional stage-show featuring traditional Inuit music and dance.

Progress has been substantial. Three new tourism-related businesses are in start-up mode, with more to come. A local Tourism Co-ordinator has been hired. The marketing strategy for Arviat, including a strong web presence, has been launched. Discussions for Arviat’s own wildlife-viewing lodge are underway. Relationships with the Churchillbased tour operators and others internationally have been developed — the first Familiarization (FAM) tour for operator-partners is scheduled for this May. Within the next year, the flow of tourists to Arviat will begin. And all this growth will continue. The Tourism Company’s role is to facilitate the ACE development through 2013-14.

At the January test run, Arviat reached a major milestone. Feasting on gourmet country foods that evening, reflecting on the day’s activity, participating members of the community realized what they had accomplished as a result of the hard work, all the training and preparation, and could really see for the first time what is possible, where Arviat is headed with this tourism initiative.

Sustainable community-based tourism is on its way in Arviat at a scale and scope unprecedented in Nunavut.