The provincial government is investing $315,000 in an effort to increase a segment of the tourism industry that is currently underrepresented but attracts considerable interest from visitors.

Alberta’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Ministry of Labour are jointly funding the creation of Indigenous Tourism Alberta, an association designed to help Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities develop tourism businesses.

“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time,” said Brenda Holder, chair of Indigenous Tourism Alberta and owner of Mahikan Trails. “This is just the beginning of this excellent opportunity for us to enhance and support high quality Indigenous tourism experiences in Alberta.”

Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, says enhancing Indigenous tourism offerings in Alberta is simply improving the supply of a valued resource where demand is strong.

“Increasing visitation, of course, by people who want to have culturally authentic experiences and the people who can better interpret that are the Indigenous people of this land,” said Miranda during Friday’s funding announcement. “It’s the most natural collaboration that there can be.”

“More and more tourists are seeking that authentic educational tourism experience.”

Keith Henry, the president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, says Alberta offers an array of potential opportunities to experience Indigenous cultures and tradition.

"The advantage that Alberta has is the Indigenous communities are very diverse,” said Henry. “What you have on the Tsuut'ina Nation and the culture is different than what you would find with the Dene Tha’ in the north or the Metis. That’s actually a market advantage and it’s a strategy we talk about."

Holder has lofty expectations for Indigenous tourism’s appeal but believes the benefits will extend far past a potential financial windfall and ensure the culture remains in place for the foreseeable future.

“These high quality Indigenous tourism experiences will make us a big player on the international stage. This industry will grow huge,” said Holder. “(But) it’s about reengaging the elders, reengaging the community and, with all of the other benefits, it will also have a social impact.”

Of the $315,000 announced on Friday, the Ministry Labour will be providing $125,000 to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses while the Ministry of Culture and Tourism will supply $190,000.

With files from CTV’s Brad MacLeod