When De-Anne Sack invited her grandchildren up from Kingsclear First Nation, N.B., to take a tour of Halifax on the Harbour Hopper in July, she was excited.
But once the tour started, that feeling quickly disappeared.
Sack, who is from Sipekne’katik First Nation, listened while the tour guide talked about Halifax being “founded” and made no reference to the Mi’kmaq who had lived there for thousands of years.
“Immediately, I felt a lump in my throat. I felt so ashamed,” she said. “I was embarrassed. I felt defeated.”
Hearing her history being erased brought to mind her great-grandmother, Nancy, who used to walk from Sipekne’katik to Kjipuktuk (Halifax) to sell mayflowers to feed her family.
The tour also did not start with a land acknowledgement, which Sack said “broke [her] heart”.
“This is the history that my grandchildren are going to learn … I was almost in tears, because it’s history repeating itself,” Sack said.
It wasn’t just Indigenous history that was lacking in the tour. Sack said there was also no mention of the Black Nova Scotian population or Black Loyalists.
‘We could do better’
Sack wrote a “respectful” letter to Ambassatours, the company that operates the Harbour Hopper, bringing the lack of diversity and accuracy to attention.
She figured she’d get brushed off — but she got a surprisingly enthusiastic response from Terri McCulloch, the company’s director of human resources and public relations.
“She thought we could do better, and she was absolutely right,” McCulloch said.
Until now, McCulloch said the specifics of each tour were left a bit more to the individual tour guide and their interests, though some had been asking for “more consistent” information about underrepresented groups like the African-Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities.
Making the tour more representative of Halifax’s culture and history was already “on the radar”, McCulloch said, but it was Sack’s “kindness” in reaching out and willingness to collaborate that made the change seamless.
“Seeing [her] reaction, it just means so much … I think we would have probably done it, but I don’t know if we would have done it as well,” McCulloch said.
Sack said McCulloch was “well-versed” in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action which, among other things, call for more education on Indigenous issues and history.
‘The difference one word can make’
McCulloch invited Sack to come back for another tour in September once the changes had been made.
This time around, it started with a land acknowledgement. The tour guide talked about the thousands of years of history of the Mi’kmaq in the region, and the Mi’kmaw name for Halifax — Kjipuktuk, meaning “Great Harbour”.
“I broke down crying,” Sack said. “All l could see was my great-grandmother, Nancy, on the street with her baskets and her flowers … Wouldn’t she be so proud that people are finally understanding? Finally recognizing? Finally compassionate toward our Mi’kmaw people?”
McCulloch said the wording of the “founding of Halifax” was changed to the “settling of Halifax,” which was a suggestion from Sack.
“I found that one very meaningful. I hadn’t thought about it before, the difference one word can make,” McCulloch said.
The tour guide also went into detail about Africville and the legacy of Viola Desmond.
Sack said the changes to the tour felt meaningful and long-lasting, calling them a “small step toward reconciliation.”
She “respectfully challenges” other tourism companies and establishments to familiarize themselves with the commission’s 94 calls to action.
“There’s more to history than the settlers’ or the colonizers’ perspective,” Sack said.
McCulloch plans to continue to work with the Mi’kmaw and Black Nova Scotian communities to continue to find ways the company can be diverse and inclusive.
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