Calgary-based Blackfoot tourism company adapting to pandemic with self-guided tour

Tarra Wright Many Chief, owner/operator of Calgary-based Many Chief Tours

“The idea is that the child that’s hearing the story, how do they see themselves in Napi? How do they understand the consequences of his actions? It’s encouraging the child to see themselves in a story.” —Tarra Wright Many Chief

By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Tarra Wright Many Chief, owner and operator of the Calgary-based Many Chief Tours company, is working to add a little bit of Indigenous education to your next socially-distanced stroll.

Partnered with Calgary’s Chinook Blast winter outdoor festival, Many Chief Tours’ most recent self-guided tour takes participants through St. Patrick's Island, located where the Elbow and Bow rivers come to meet in the city’s core.

“They’ve been really great in terms of working with us and trying to roll with what the restrictions are in Alberta,” said Wright Many Chief of her company’s relationship with the festival.

The tours are accessible by scanning a QR code on signage while visiting the Island. That will prompt a web page to come up containing the tour’s audio. The Chinook Blast Festival, which began on Feb. 13, runs next weekend through Feb. 28.

The self-guided tour includes a land acknowledgement and three stories about Napi, a trickster in Blackfoot traditional culture, which are used to teach important lessons to children listening rather than scolding or embarrassing them.

“All of the stories are that Napi is selfish and not thinking about others, and he’s constantly getting into trouble,” Wright Many Chief said. “The idea is that the child that’s hearing the story, how do they see themselves in Napi? How do they understand the consequences of his actions? It’s encouraging the child to see themselves in a story.”

Wright Many Chief said the Napi stories are not meant to be shared during the summer, but rather “in the winter when we’re not outdoors as much; when we end up being really close with our family.”

A member of Blackfoot Confederacy and the Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) in southern Alberta, Wright Many Chief says her company’s tours are a “passion project,” and she’s looking forward to continuing to grow the endeavour, which was launched in 2020.

In addition to the audio tours, the company is also launching its in-person guided Mohkinstsis tour on March 6.

Mohkinstsis, which also takes place on St. Patrick’s Island, allows guests the “opportunity to learn and connect with local Indigenous people in an outdoor nature setting that fosters learning and open dialogue” as per the tour’s description.

Wright Many Chief says a benefit of the tours during the pandemic is that people can avoid long-distance, non-essential travel. And the current max capacity for guided tours is nine to comply with local COVID-19 restrictions. The company focuses its marketing on Calgary and the immediate surrounding area.

The tour future of Many Chief Tours though is largely dependent on a return to normalcy, with the possibility of larger bus tours “four or five years down the line.”

Later this spring, there is an upcoming tour planned at the Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel, located on Nose Hill in Calgary’s northwest. It will give an introduction to plants that are essential to traditional Blackfoot life.

“This tour is less about history and a bit more focused on what people use for medicine, what plants are considered sacred,” Wright Many Chief said.

Wright Many Chief has worked in consulting the past five years, including on tourism projects with Indigenous Tourism Alberta and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.

Currently, the company’s staff is quite small, with most tours either conducted by Wright Many Chief herself or Vanessa Stiffarm, a local Blackfoot resident who was also named First Nations Princess at the 2016 Calgary Stampede. However, there is currently an opening for a summer student, as Wright Many Chief said it’s important for her to be able to create employment for youth in the area.

“I’m looking for someone that’s excited about the idea of tourism,” she said. “It’s definitely a different field than most people go into, but there’s so much for a student to learn. There’s so much to learn that you didn’t already know about the culture.”

More information on the tours can be found via Indigenous Tours | Many Chief Tours | Calgary.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.

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