They say every journey starts with a single step, but for Bobbi Rose Koe, it might start with a single stroke of a paddle—and a name, if she can come up with one for her new business. “I’m not really 100 per cent sure on the name,” she says. “It’s something I’ve been stuck on for a while.”
Koe is one of nine Indigenous Northerners who make up the second cohort of EntrepreNorth’s project to ignite business ideas—this time with an on-the-land tourism focus. Currently, Koe is a guide for Nahanni Wild. She also helped found Youth of the Peel, a group that brings youth to the Peel Watershed for on-the-land learning. Originally from Fort MacPherson, she grew up around the Peel River, the ancestral home of her people, the Tetlit Gwich’in. And now, she’s taking the tourists with her.
Why is it so important for you to be on this river?
“Being able to travel on ancestral lands, to be able to see it in person, really changed my life perspective. It’s so beautiful. My grandparents all described it for me as the ‘creator’s country,’ but going into the Peel Watershed five times, I know why my people love going out there.
“My grandparents, they gave this to me, and it taught me all these skills and basically everything I know. And I always wondered how come they were teaching me, and they’re like, ‘We’re getting you ready,’ and now that I’m a little bit older I understand why they did that. Because we want to sustain our culture and traditions, our history, and make sure our history is being told by us.”
That’s the goal of Youth of the Peel, but you’re bringing it into your new business too, right?
“It’s really important for me for my people to remember where they come from and who they come from and where they’re going and also remember their traditions and culture. And being able to show young people you can do this and inspire them. And let elders know that we’ll continue on our traditions and culture. I just want to let the young people know if you love being out on the land, you could make a career out of that.”
And now you’ll be bringing tourists out to the land too. Why do that?
“I don’t think there’s enough Indigenous tourism companies with Indigenous guides overall, in Canada or even in the North. Being able to take them through our land and be like, you know, we welcome you here, and we want you to walk with us where our ancestors have walked before. My grandfather is buried in the Peel. My great-great-grandmother travelled river to river when she was 12 years old. I could share those stories. We have mountains up there that are near and dear to me; they’re just like family. My ancestors saw that mountain before, now I get to see it again. It’s just like a family member.”
Does that change the experience for the visitor?
“It gives a different feel. Like, I’m going to be going to the Mountain River this summer outside Fort Good Hope and learning about their community and their people is just so different than just going to visit and just leaving. You feel more connected and more driven and you want to come back, you know?”
You’re also sharing a different history with visitors.
“One of my elders was born on one of the mountains there, and we pass that mountain. So, yeah, teaching that history, and being able to say where people lived before contact, it’s truly creator’s country. Then they moved to these communities. All the people that used to travel have either passed or are old. So I think it’s more like a responsibility, even though we’re guiding tours and guiding people. It’s all about that education as well. Even with my Youth of the Peel participants I tell them, you know, you’re part of my Peel family and now you’re part of something bigger.”