June 11, 2004

From pow wows and canoe trips, to state-of-the-art heritage museums, visitors to the Manitoulin Island area can "Experience the Past and Enjoy the Present", while appreciating the First Nations lifestyle.  In 1998, theWaubetek Business Development Corporation created a tourism marketing initiative, involving a network of eight First Nations communities in the region of Manitoulin Island and Sagamok, known as the Great Spirit Circle Trail.  This initiative has successfully marketed 40 Aboriginal tourism businesses, benefiting more than 500 people, and received international recognition for its unique heritage tours.  Dawn Madahbee, General Manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, believes that the development of the Great Spirit Circle Trail has contributed to the creation of job opportunities, as well as the enhancement of business and tourism in the local communities.
“Our goal is to help strengthen the economies of the local First Nations, as well as the whole region of Ontario, through business and community development,” says Madahbee.
Waubetek, meaning “the future” in the Ojibwe language, is an Aboriginal-inclusive Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) contributing a variety of services to northeastern Ontario Aboriginal communities.  It covers 27 First Nations communities to access funding from 23 programs, while providing support to off-reserve Aboriginal entrepreneurs throughout the province.  The foundation for this distinctive tourism marketing initiative was established by representatives from each of the eight First Nations partners, know as the Aboriginal Tourism Marketing Committee.  The Committee was determined to create a successful cooperative that would showcase the natural beauty of the area, the people, and traditional hospitality.  Their hard work didn’t go unnoticed and, in 1998, they received funding to oversee the implementation of the Great Spirit Circle Trail.  This trail would connect the eight First Nations communities, and provide stronger tourism possibilities through promotion of local market-ready tourism products and services.
The Great Spirit Circle Trail offers unsurpassed quality Aboriginal tourism experiences, including fully guided interpretive tours to learn about the Native culture and history of the original inhabitants - the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi People.  It offers accommodations, attractions, transportation, food and beverage, events and festivals.  Tour packages provide a recreational and educational learning experience for the whole family to enjoy.  “Tourism is the largest industry in our area,” says Madahbee.  “So we wanted to be involved in its development in order to influence the type of tourism that takes place in our communities.”
A sophisticated marketing campaign has been developed for the Great Spirit Circle Trail, which incorporates promotional materials in the English, French and German languages.  Colourful glossy lure brochures, community brochures, and maps have been designed and distributed to tourist information bureaus throughout Ontario.  The development of a website, a radio advertising campaign, and two interactive kiosk units, successfully promote local events and aid the traveling public.  Travel trade promotional materials, including a cd-rom, have been distributed exclusively to tour operators and media writers as an introduction to the Aboriginal tourism experience on the Great Spirit Circle Trail.
This initiative has received international recognition through its attendance at some of the world’s elite tourism trade shows, the hosting of media tours, and working with the travel trade.  The Great Spirit Circle Trail has been showcased in magazine articles throughout North America and Europe.  Currently, a 15-minute film documentary on the Great Spirit Circle Trail is being featured as an in-flight movie on all outbound flights of Luftansa Airlines (German Airline) through the months of January to March 2004.  Future plans may include an expanded service area of up to 27 First Nations communities, to provide a wider region of Aboriginal tourism opportunities to be explored on the Great Spirit Circle Trail.  The Eight First Nations partners that are currently represented by the Great Spirit Circle Trail include:  Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation; M’Chigeeng First Nation; Sagamok Anishinawbek; Sheguiandah First Nation; Sheshegwaning First Nation; Whitefish River First Nation; Wikwemikng Unceded Indian Reserve; and Zhiibaahaasing First Nation.