By Jane Hobson
In December 2016, Stephanie Sarazin was awarded an Aboriginal Tourism Award for Best Cultural Ambassador at the fifth-annual International Aboriginal Tourism Conference. Sarazin is an Algonquin from Pikwakanagan, Ont. and has strong ties to the Lanark County and Ottawa region.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” says Sarazin, 30, remembering the moment she won the award. With her mother sitting on one side and her boss on the other, Sarazin says it was such a surreal experience that she cried. Everyone else in the room already knew she was going to win. “My mom even encouraged me to have an acceptance speech ready ‘just in case’,” Sarazin laughs.
The Aboriginal Tourism Award for Best Cultural Ambassador acknowledges tourism operators who are dedicated to improving and increasing the aboriginal tourism industry in Canada. These individuals find meaningful ways to share their culture with visitors through authentic aboriginal tourism experiences.
“It’s an amazing honour to see all of my years of hard work, dedication and the passion that I have for what I do being recognized in such a huge way,” she says.
Sarazin has spent the last 13 years working for Aboriginal Experiences. The Ottawa company creates programs that immerse tourists in First Nation’s culture through things like guided tours, cuisine and powwow dances.
“I’m thrilled when a visitor leaves with a deeper understanding and appreciation of our way of life,” Sarazin says, adding that learning about the past experiences of first nations people can help people understand the history of Canada.
In 2016, Sarazin also began offering programming at her newly re-opened business, The Anishinabe Experience, in Golden Lake, Ont. The Anishinabe Experience was originally a craft store owned by Sarazin’s mother. Sarazin spent a lot of her childhood at craft store. She shared her Aboriginal ways of life with people who came along looking for a first nations experience.
“I loved to chat with anyone who would listen,” she says.
As a child, Sarazin brought Aboriginal crafts into the classroom to show her peers what activities she did for fun, like beading and dancing. “I went to school at a time when we were able to speak our language again, there were no more residential schools. I took in all I could and I shared everything I could.”
Now, The Anishinabe Experience is way more than a craft store – it transports tourists into the traditional world of the Algonquins of Golden Lake. Visitors are invited to learn songs in the Algonquin language and learn the meaning behind the Algonquin dialect. Other activities include a traditional song and dance by Algonquin youth groups and listening to a storyteller share legends of Algonquin beliefs, spiritualism and history.
In order to prepare for the future, Sarazin says people must understand and educate themselves about how important the connection between people and the natural environment is.
“Our economy is changing, everything is changing, but we will still need food and water to survive in the future,” she says. People are taught to see everything as linear but first nations see everything as circular, Sarazin explains. “Kids today think food comes from a grocery store. That’s a huge indication that something is wrong with the world,” Sarazin says. “If the ground is full of oil, we can’t grow food from the ground.”
Educating children is so important because kids are like sponges, their curiosity will carry them and encourage them to learn more, Sarazin says. “We can make a better future if we prepare the next generation for it. But we need to work together.”
People are thought to think seven generations ahead in first nations culture. “In seven generations from now I want to see more farms, good food, and children who can drink water from the lake, who can catch a fish, bring it home, skin it and eat it for dinner,” she says.
After years of focusing on educating people about the Aboriginal ways of life, Sarazin says she’s okay with not yet having children of her own. “I’m extremely happy with where I’m at because I’m educating todays kids to make tomorrow better and different than it is now. I am happy,” she explains.
Sarazin says the best feeling is seeing someone’s eyes light up while she’s talking to them. That’s how she knows she’s done a good job.
“My life’s work is to help people realize how important this really is — but I can only tell this story so many times to so many people,” she explains. “I will continue to dance, I will continue to share, I will continue to educate.”
Photo caption: Stephanie Sarazin was awarded Best Cultural Ambassador at the International Aboriginal Tourism Conference in December 2016. Photo submitted by Kasia Wind.
First published in the February Edition of Hometown News.