SIX NATIONS – Tourism on Six Nations is rapidly becoming a thriving industry where non-native individuals can come and learn how to respect and appreciate the Haudenosaunee culture and lifestyle — yet some city folk still aren’t sure how well their presence here is received.
“Every time I’ve driven through here I’ve never been entirely sure if I’m allowed to be here or not,” said a non-native man from Hamilton who asked not to be named. “I’ve never received bad treatment here or anything like that — I just have also never really known if the reserve is supposed to be off-limits for non-natives.
“I’ve also wondered if the white people who do come here often had to ask for special permission or something to come on to the reserve,” he said.
We spoke with Tabitha Curley, corporate communications officer for Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation (SNGRDC) and she said that now is a good time for Six Nations Tourism to reach out and begin to welcome off-reserve individuals here to learn and educate themselves and let everyone know that people are welcome here.
“A lot of people who aren’t from here or have never been here think that all First Nations people are one and the same, which just isn’t true,” said Curley. “Just to name a few in Canada — there are Longhouse people, there are those that live in Teepees, some that live in Wigwams and more — we are a completely diverse people group and a lot of people just don’t know that yet.”
Curley said that now with recent curriculum changes in the school systems that involve educating children on more indigenous knowledge and history, tourism wants to invite off-reserve people here so they can learn new things in a healthy environment.
“We want people to come here and feel comfortable asking us questions and learning about who we are,” she said. “We can invite people here to learn about our culture and then we can also talk to them about some of our neighbouring communities so we can begin to break down some of these misconceptions that some people have about us all being the same.”
Curley said that people should feel comfortable driving on Six Nations’ roads and experiencing things that the community has to offer, but she said that the stigma of being unwelcome here may stem from several different historical factors.
“There is a very old bylaw about a curfew for non-native people, I’m pretty sure it has never been stuck down, and it says that a non-native person can’t be on the reserve after dark unless they are in the company of a Six Nations band member,” she said. “It was a real thing back then that people had to follow so I can see where that stigma comes from of being unwelcome.”
Curley went on to explain that not so long ago there was also a time when an indigenous person from the community couldn’t leave the reserve without a ticket from an indian agent, so it makes sense why both groups, native and non-native might hold stigmas against each other from past hurts and mistakes.
“I can’t speak for the entire community by saying everybody thinks that everyone should be welcome here, but from a tourism point of view, it’s beneficial,” she said.
Whenever non-natives come on to the territory and purchase products of any kind, that money goes into helping the economy here. “It absolutely helps us grow,” said Curley.
She added that it works both ways. A document from a 2009 leakage study showed that Six Nations and New Credit spent more than $200 million off of the community. Which means that money that was generated though employment and business here was spent on things like cars, groceries and other things off the reserve.
“Tourism brings money directly to the community, and that money clearly gets used for growth within and outside of the community,” she said. “Right now we don’t have the capacity to have a successful grocery store here because we only have so many people we can sell groceries too. Same thing for cars and homes. Things don’t tend to inflate here the way they do off reserve.”
To answer the question brought forward in this article of whether or not non-natives are welcome here, Curley said that yes, she feels SNGRDC and Six Nations Tourism have no issues with non-natives visiting.
“Just treat our speed limits and laws like you would in any other community out of respect and safety for one another.”
SNGRDC is the parent company of Six Nations Bingo and a part of their slogan is that “Everyone is Welcome”. In the past, they have sent buses to pick up non-natives from Hamilton once a month to bring them to the bingo hall because a lot of the bingo players tend to be from off the reserve.
“There are so many things to do here on Six Nations that we want everyone to be a part of,” said Curley. “We just had our pow wow, but others things to do here include; the Six Nations Pageant Outdoor Theatre; Ohsweken Speedway; a number of beautiful art galleries that showcase our community’s talent like sculpture and beadwork and paintings; music festivals; and sports.
“Our sports culture is huge here and is something we encourage off-reserve individuals to come and watch get involved in,” said Curley.