Storytelling school

Indigenous woman leads walking tours using traditional oral storytelling

Tarra Wright’s Many Chief tourism business offers guided tours of traditional Blackfoot territory. PHOTO PROVIDED BY: LOTS OF TOURS IN CHIEF

Tarra Wright Many Chief has worked with major institutions in Calgary as a background player to help amplify Indigenous voices, but in opening her small business she found her purpose in sharing Blackfoot culture directly with her clients.

Growing up on the Blood, or Kainai, reservation in southern Alberta, Many Chief felt like an oddity. His mother being the only non-Indigenous person living on the reservation, Many Chief and his siblings were among the few mixed children in the community.

While she is now deeply proud of her community and culture, Many Chief often felt disconnected from it during her childhood.

“I felt like sometimes certain doors were closed to me.”

Many chefs say his Pied-noir heritage taught him to value honesty and continuous learning. PHOTO PROVIDED BY: LOTS OF TOURS IN CHIEF

Communication barriers

After commuting to and from Lethbridge, Alberta for school for years, Many Chief moved to Calgary with an accounting degree from the University of Lethbridge. Despite the analytical nature of his bachelor’s degree, Many Chief followed his intuition when it came to his career. In 2017, she decided to take on the role of collaborative coordinator for an Indigenous tourism conference being held in Calgary that year.

Many chiefs were determined to work with native businesses after struggling with welcoming others into the job market, but the transition from blood reserve to big city was a culture shock for her. The most basic communication approaches differed significantly from what she was used to growing up in a Blackfoot community.

“The way I speak is really geared towards connecting with these people, putting them at ease.”

Many chiefs have described how his Pied-noir heritage taught him to value honesty, continuous learning and acceptance of past mistakes. Regardless of whether another person is aware of the harmful language they are using, Many Chief is quick to recognize when it is directed at themselves and those around them.

“When I try to talk to people about little communication things that really reinforce stereotypes and refer to racism – which is the ugly word that nobody wants to hear – people don’t believe it exists.”

The communication barriers faced by many leaders have even made their way into the workplace. Often she has been overlooked and her contributions have been undervalued, solely because of her identity as an Aboriginal woman.

“I can say exactly the same thing a non-Indigenous person says and it doesn’t come across the same way because I don’t say it with a recognizable tone of authority that a non-Indigenous person would believe should exist. ”

Many chiefs were first inspired to offer walking tours of Blackfoot lands in 2016. PHOTO PROVIDED BY: LOTS OF TOURS IN CHIEF

Many chief visits

Inspired by the richness of the Indigenous community across Canada that she witnessed through her work, Many Chief began to do more consultation work, bringing those voices into important conversations.

Many Chief is proud of the change it has helped bring to the Glenbow Museum by bringing in Indigenous historians, artists and gallery consultants to educate the public while showcasing Indigenous professionals.

“Let’s create these Indigenous Inclusive Zones to continue to foster this relationship that already existed.

In 2016, Many Chief was first inspired to take walking tours around Blackfoot lands and tell stories to anyone who wanted to learn. It took until 2019 for this idea to be fully realized, when Many Chief Tours opened its doors to the public.

His own dedication and hard work in the Indigenous tourism industry has allowed businesses like his to take off and succeed, says Many Chief.

“The only way for my business to succeed as a tourism business was if I ran a provincial association.

Many leaders hope to connect individuals to the land through history. PHOTO PROVIDED BY: LOTS OF TOURS IN CHIEF

Relationship between man and nature

Many Chief Guided Tours offer Calgarians and tourists the opportunity to learn about the heritage of Calgary’s Indigenous communities while strolling through St. Patrick’s Island Park.

Many chefs’ work as a consultant is technical, time-consuming and involves a lot of numbers. When she talks about Many Chief’s tours, she speaks with fondness – with a certain degree of pride and excitement. She can’t wait for April to arrive, to spend her days outdoors and connect with others and the earth.

“It really is a passion project to have a performance.”

Joanna Pesta, Manager of Programming and Events at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, worked closely with Many Chief since the tours were just an idea on paper. History comes alive as guests listen to Many Chief tell stories and explain cultural curiosities while walking along the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers — an experience that regularly drops jaws, Pesta says.

The CMLC expressed its excitement when it first heard Many Chief’s speech. Pesta described the tours as a transportation experience.

“It’s a great experience to immerse yourself in Calgary’s history by walking through the beautiful park and learning about Tarra’s history and cultural background,” says Pesta.

Being outdoors and walking in a land so rich in culture and history was a key aspect of the tours that Many Chief set out on. While this limits visits to a seasonal business, it more than makes up for how individuals can truly connect with the land.

The relationship between man and nature is of great importance in Indigenous culture, as noted by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane, Anishinaabe scholar and assistant professor in the Indigenous Studies program at Mount Royal University. Pheasant-Neganigwane believes tours can help visitors learn about the living land.

“They walk away saying, I have to treat this Mother Earth with more compassion, with love,” Pheasant-Neganigwane says.

While the natural surroundings of St. Patrick’s Island Park are an important aspect of the terrain, Many Chief Tours offers more than the view. Great importance is given to the cultural sharing component of these tours. As owner and guide, Many Chief strives to deepen the cultural learning experiences of others and connect individuals to the land through history. Ultimately, Many Chief champions Indigenous culture and life every step of the way.

“Even if they call it tourism, we know it’s cultural sharing. It creates cultural pride.

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