They had no idea they’d end up working together, but Elaine Alec, Chris Derickson and Jessie Hemphill all saw a problem that needed a solution. Back in 2008, the three Indigenous founders of Alderhill Planning got involved in creating plans for their home communities through a pilot project launched by First Nations in B.C.
At the time, the federal government would only give Indigenous communities funds to hire a registered planner, Alec says. So planning often fell to bigger companies that used templates from their gigs for municipalities. “Communities never saw themselves in this work,” recalls Alec, a Penticton-based member of the Syilx and Secwépemc nations. “They didn’t understand the way the reports were written or how they were supposed to implement the plan. And a lot of times, those plans would just sit on the shelf.”
Derickson is chief of the Westbank First Nation, while Nanaimo-based Hemphill is from the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations, with Métis heritage. Like Alec, they began offering planning services individually. Unable to keep up with demand alone, the three joined forces in 2016. “We saw growing need for Indigenous people with that experience to come in and work with Indigenous communities,” Alec says.
Alderhill—whose name combines letters from the founders’ surnames—has also worked with regional districts and other non-Indigenous organizations. Its approach rests on four principles: supporting the client’s unique vision of sustainable governance and community development; using our past to live well into the future; creating healthy and productive relationships; and mentoring communities. “We ask to build reciprocal relationships, and we want to build all of the work that we do on well-being,” Alec explains.
Still, there are some tough conversations. “Especially when it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous communities, if you’re doing this process and feeling good about it the whole time, then it’s not true reconciliation,” Alec says. “We have to step out of our comfort zone to reconcile those relationships that have been severed.”
Drawing on Indigenous protocols, Alderhill—our Diversity and Inclusion runner-up—also aims to decolonize the planning process. Its methods are built on trust, Alec says, “and doing our best to not control what people are going to share and how they’re going to contribute, but meeting them where they are at so that we can work together.” The company doesn’t blame or exclude people, she stresses: “How do we decolonize by creating safe spaces where everybody has a voice?”
From three staff pre-COVID, Alderhill has grown to 11 while also employing subcontractors. Unlike other planning firms, it doesn’t claim intellectual property rights over its work—and asks clients to follow suit. “We want more planners to do work in this way,” Alec says. “A big piece of it is making sure that we’re mentoring people, we’re freely sharing our knowledge and information with each other.”
After the province went into pandemic shutdown in early 2020, Brenda Baptiste and her team at Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) didn’t waste any time. “We knew our stakeholders were going to be in a panic,” says the chair of the nonprofit organization, whose 400-plus member businesses were getting ready to open for the year.
With its partners, who include provincial agency Destination BC Corp. and the federal government, ITBC quickly shifted $300,000 of its operating budget directly to the Indigenous tourism operators it represents. The Emergency Relief Fund, launched in May 2020, helped those businesses keep the lights on, Baptiste explains. “But more importantly, it provided hope in a time that was so full of doubt,” she says. “That had a huge impact on our stakeholders.”
To offer more support, ITBC held regular Zoom meetings with businesses. “It also gave us an opportunity to align all of our strategies around COVID recovery, based on the information they were giving us,” says Baptiste, who belongs to the Osoyoos Indian Band of the Syilx Okanagan nation. Early last year, with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, ITBC began distributing $5 million in grants via the BC Indigenous Tourism Recovery Fund, which is offering another $3 million for 2022.
ITBC has also played a key role in making Indigenous voices, stories and communities part of Destination BC’s new Iconics strategy, which aims to highlight globally compelling routes and places. Iconics, part of the provincial government’s commitment to reconciliation, celebrates the collaboration between Indigenous people and settlers, Baptiste says. On the marketing side, ITBC’s efforts include its Authentic Indigenous designation program, which appeals to travellers looking for genuine cultural experiences.
For Baptiste, it comes back to the vision for the oldest Indigenous tourism organization in Canada: “to create economic opportunities for First Nations and for Indigenous people in this province, and to create cultural revitalization.”