The Orford River Valley boasts one of the heaviest concentrations of Grizzly Bears in British Columbia.  This traditional home of the Homalco Indian Band was abandoned many years ago but is now being resurrected by a fortunate confluence of events which would have been hard to imagine in years past.

The Homalco have found a willing ally in Mr. Wynne Powell, the CEO of London Drugs Ltd, the company which also owns The Senora Resort, a luxury wilderness lodge located nearby. The company and the band have joined forces by combining their unique abilities to make this a Grizzly viewing mecca especially for European tourists who are enamored by the abundance of wildlife in British Columbia.

The band first restored the Orford River salmon run and then added value by selling tours to watch the bears eat fish. Mr Powell, an avid Grizzly photographer and a frequent customer of the trips saw where he could help the band grow their business by offering a two day program for the six-member grizzly bear crew where the company’s training program in customer handling skills was redesigned to make it relevant to wilderness bear guides. 

The results have been remarkable and could not have occured if either group had acted in isolation. Whereas in the past the guides would have ad-libbed, there are now prescribed welcoming speeches, set tour schedules and a series of carvings which serve as talking points for the guides to explain Homalco legends. The guides have become more confident and polished in their presentations and because of the interest of the outside world for the Homalco culture, there is a renewed enthusiasm and pride on the reserve about the past, with some of the guides trying to learn their largely forgotten Homalco language. The Bear Tour has now become a must-do experience for visitors to the lodge and the cultural dimension provided by the guides is priceless.

What a great template for other aboriginal business ventures to emulate. I have seen modern resorts owned by Indian bands in BC where there is a disappointing number of aboriginal employees which completely misses the point, since these businesses were meant to provide employment opportunities for aboriginal youth. A cooperative approach like the above could be the answer to getting these ventures on the right track of providing good jobs, renewed cultural pride and a valuable educational experience for visitors.