Indigenous Mainers are working on a plan to boost tourism for the state’s five Wabanaki nations.
The Wabanaki Cultural Tourism Initiative has received both a federal grant from Health and Human Services and a state grant from the Maine Office of Tourism.
As a member of the Penobscot Nation, Charlene Virgilio, executive director of Four Directions Development Corp., northern New England’s first Aboriginal community development financial institution, said cultural preservation is at the heart of the project. Her goal is to create unique experiences to share how the Abenaki have long been stewards of the land and water.
“Canoeing, kayaking along the ancient rivers that we have, traditional fishing methods, whatever,” she said, “those kinds of things that will help preserve the culture, but also help tourists to discover this culture.
Four Directions and the initiative are set to participate in Governor Janet Mills’ annual tourism conference today and tomorrow. Virgilio said authenticity is key for many Wabanaki communities interested in boosting tourism.
In addition to preserving and sharing culture, said Matthew Lewis, director of Wabanaki program and operations for Four Directions and a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, this effort is a way to bring more income to Maine’s native communities and stimulate local economies. For example, he said, there are so many artisans in the community to engage with.
“Tourism can sometimes have a negative connotation with some communities, saying we don’t want people walking through, taking pictures, doing the Disneyland kind of package,” he said. “We want meaningful engagement with the community and meaningful engagement with the culture.”
As they map out the strong four-season tourism industry they hope to achieve by 2030, Lewis said, they also need to consider the infrastructure needed — from hotels and restaurants to workforce development and in hotel training.
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