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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Aboriginal theme park idea under attack
'Dog sleds, igloos, that kind of stuff'

Jessica Leeder
National Post

Critics of an Alberta government proposal asking native bands to build aboriginal theme parks for tourists wanting to camp out in teepees, eat moose meat and watch staged Indian pow-wows say the parks run the risk of becoming a circus filled with racism and stereotypes.

A proposal put forward by Pearl Calahasen, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, seeks to recreate traditional lifestyles in a series of elaborate Indian villages to boost tourism in the province.

Plans include employing provincial band members to reenact historical battles and events, stage traditional matrimonial ceremonies and meals, run cultural pavillions, amusement rides, casinos, encampments and other recreational activities, and teach history.

"Ideally there would be aboriginal people working in the theme parks showcasing culture and creating jobs. There could be hundreds employed in running them," said Peter Tadman, spokesman for the Minister.

"The idea lends itself to various theme parks. We could offer honeymoon packages, private teepees, opportunities to sleep under the northern lights or a chance to visit any aboriginal community in the province," he said.

"We would really like to see individual communities building their own theme parks."

A report in March by Alberta Economic Development and Industry Canada showed aboriginal tourism as a potential growth area, especially among tourists from Europe and Korea.

"Travel experts say there is huge interest in the aboriginal aspect of Alberta culture," said Mark Erdman, spokesman for Alberta Economic Development.

The proposal is part of a larger provincial tourism initiative to boost tourism revenue to $6-billion annually by 2005, up from $4.5-billion. Mr. Tadman said under the theme park proposal, which is still in early planning stages, private investors would provide the capital funding, but both public and private interests would benefit.

Both Mr. Tadman and Mr. Erdman said the province prefers to act as a liaison between native communities and private, commercial interests, rather than investing capital in the project.

However, Walter Janvier, Chief of Chipeywan Prairies First Nation outside Fort McMurray, said First Nations in Alberta have their own plans for increasing tourism, which they plan to implement without trivializing native culture.

"The way [tourists] view Canada is like dog sleds, igloos, that kind of stuff. We don't live in teepees. We're not going to put on a headdress, do a dance," he said.

"We want to show the world how we live today, not how we once lived. There are lots of lakes out here, trapping, hunting, animals. Besides, theme park doesn't quite sound right. Seems like a Walt Disney thing," he said.

Kevin Tuft, Alberta's Liberal aboriginal affairs critic, questioned the size of the government's role in the project.

"White society could learn a tremendous amount from that culture. What we don't want to do is turn it into a sort of circus," he said, adding the government should plan to be more involved in regulating the parks if they are to be a tribute to traditional native culture.

"Are the theme parks meant to celebrate and enrich aboriginal culture or meant to cash in on stereotypes? If there are casinos, I would be concerned that this is much more about making money than it is about cultural development," he said.

"These ideas have to be handled very carefully and with great respect. I don't think this government will be able to develop these facilities with the kind of quality that ensures success."

Under the proposal, aboriginal communities across the province are encouraged to open their individual bands to tourists and make varying theme parks to showcase their cultures.

Eventually, tourists would be able to travel among the participating native communities.

Rob's comment
The stereotypes here are embodied in the comment:

"The way [tourists] view Canada is like dog sleds, igloos, that kind of stuff. We don't live in teepees. We're not going to put on a headdress, do a dance," he said.

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