Hands preparing Ah-Nah-Ko-Nah-Ow at Pei Pei Chei Ow, an Edmonton-based catering company that offers contemporary Indigenous cuisine. (Pei Pei Chei Ow photo)

Hands preparing Ah-Nah-Ko-Nah-Ow at Pei Pei Chei Ow, an Edmonton-based catering company that offers contemporary Indigenous cuisine. (Pei Pei Chei Ow photo)

Pandemic-forced changes to Indigenous tourism businesses net positive outlooks

‘We survived colonization. We survived residential school. We’re going to survive COVID for sure’

By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CFWE

After some initial concerns about whether his business would be able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott Iserhoff has a much more positive outlook now.

Iserhoff owns Pei Pei Chei Ow, an Edmonton-based catering company that offers contemporary Indigenous cuisine.

Iserhoff was one of three business owners who took part in a panel at the virtual Indigenous Tourism Alberta summit, which concluded on Wednesday.

The panelists discussed how they have shifted their businesses since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The panel included Amy Willier, an artist, designer and co-owner of Calgary’s Moonstone Creation, and Juanita Marois, the executive director of Metis Crossing, located in Smoky Lake.

Mackenzie Brown, the project manager for Indigenous Tourism Alberta, facilitated the panel.

Iserhoff told conference attendees how all of his catering gigs were cancelled as soon as the pandemic hit.

“The hospitality industry took a big hit and is (still) slowly taking that hit,” Iserhoff said. “All our bookings got cancelled. And at the time we had just had our newborn. So that was kind of a blessing too, because I didn’t have to work for like two months so I could spend every day with my little one, which was a positive to look at.”

Iserhoff has started to build his business back up. In fact, he seems to be doing quite well offering various dining packages.

And he’s not willing to let the pandemic dampen his optimism for the future, despite making plenty of adjustments in his business. He believes other Indigenous business owners should adopt a similar line of thinking.

“We survived colonization. We survived residential school. We’re going to survive COVID for sure,” he said.

“COVID is nothing compared to what we’ve survived previous to this. It’s just a little stage and, maybe, it’s happening for us to take a step back and think where we’re going with our business, with our lives, put more perspective on our values.”

Iserhoff said he no longer aspires to own a restaurant. Because of the pandemic he’s content to continue his catering jobs, operate more online cooking classes and possibly find a space to have private dining functions.

As for Willier, she said her Indigenous gallery and gift shop had to make some immediate changes when the pandemic hit and its doors were closed.

“We started doing face masks,” Willier said. “That’s how we started. And I was doing curbside pickup three days a week.”

Moonstone Creation also beefed up its online presence in order to sell other goods.

“We were selling beads and supplies and smudge items because people were saying `I don’t know what to do with my time’,” Willier said.

By the time September rolled around, Willier decided to pivot her business even more by offering online classes.

For Orange Shirt Day, 150 kits for an Orange Shirt Day beaded brooch project were sold to various schools and additional kits were sold through the store’s website.

Willier said her online classes quickly became a success.

“I had a company that bought 400 kits of Dreamcatcher-making kits,” she said.

September proved to be a really busy month.

“I figure I taught 600 people virtually, which I could never have done before COVID,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have been running here and there teaching people.”

During October Willier concentrated on selling beaded poppies. And now in November she has added classes on how to make baby moccasins.

As for Marois, she said Metis Crossing officials have been forced to make their share of changes at the popular cultural interpretive facility because of the pandemic.

“We completed our new gathering centre in December 2019 and we were poised to have a wonderful grand opening event,” Marois said.

But those plans were nixed.

“When we got the news in March (about the pandemic), like other cultural gathering centres, we had to shut our doors,” Marois said. “We really took that time to reflect and (determine) what is our business model and what can we do.”

The answer was plenty, thanks primarily to the fact the centre is located on 512 acres of land along Saskatchewan River, plus the fact people were still eager to get out safely from their homes when they could.

“We decided to change our model to offer different experiences and we focused very much on the same content, on the same stories we wanted to share,” Marois said. “But we had to share them slightly differently. So, we did time-stamped visitations.”

Those looking to visit the facility were required to register online. And they were required to abide by new safe visitation rules.

“The challenge with that of course is that it doesn’t allow us high volumes of people,” Marois said. “So, in terms of generating a lot of income, our visitation was actually only about 10 per cent of what we had hoped it would be this year.”

Marois said visitors seemed to enjoy the smaller gatherings.

“It provided a very intimate experience for guests,” she said. “And guests were very happy to have this safe place to be, to run, to experience nature, to learn about the Metis culture.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

skip2
Rimbey Christian School students experience the joy of giving

Grades three and four students raised $2,000 for Somalian children

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

Bids for Kids poster
Wolf Creek Youth Foundation online auction gets ‘overwhelming’ response

Santa’s Bids for Kids auction to benefit youth programs in Rimbey, Ponoka

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

The Red Deer Games Foundation has made changes to its grant program as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo supplied)
Red Deer Games Foundation adjusts grant program due to COVID-19 pandemic

The foundation postponed the spring 2020 grant program due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Most Read