Journey Towards Self-Determination: Erica Louie Explores Tourism as a Vehicle of Change
“I've always been geared towards working for Indigenous communities and self-determination, taking part in the economy, building businesses, having own source revenue, just really pulling away from the Indian Act and the band office governance structure,” Erica Louie explains.
“That's primarily the reason why I've been gaining my knowledge, getting an education, getting all the different experience with working with different Indigenous communities and businesses and just seeing where I can help move things along and hopefully one day away from the Indian Act for most of the communities within BC,” she continues.
Erica Louie has been living in Terrace, BC, for the past seven years but she’s originally from Hazleton. Her dad is from the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation and they are part of the Gitdumden clan. She works with Indigenous Tourism BC as a Capacity Development and Pathfinding Manager. She’s part of a two-year project called the Capacity Development and Resiliency Project, which assists Indigenous communities within the tourism industry.
Indigenous tourism looks a little different depending on where you go, she explains, noting, “The Vancouver region is pretty busy with wildlife tours and whale watching. Within the North, there's a lot of different destinations, such as long houses and cultural centres. It really depends on the nation and what their tourism strategy is.” The project funds tourism strategy or planning, meeting communities where they are at to identify what they want to share and what they don't.
When she worked with Kitselas First Nation, she did a lot of their land use and economic development planning. Some of that planning included their vision for RV parks and their historic canyon revitalization, major projects to boost their tourism. That’s when she started talking to indigenous Tourism BC and asking for help in developing a tourism specific strategy for the Nation.
Growing up with parents and family in leadership, careers in environment and lands came naturally to her. She started out in college doing a forest technology program but she only completed a year of the program because of its hyper-focus on logging industries. She switched to the University of Northern BC’s bachelor's degree in environmental studies, entering through the Northern Advancement Program, which targets Indigenous students. In the end, she completed the environmental planning degree so she could obtain a professional designation as part of the program.
When she was at UNBC, Louie found a lot of support from the First Nations Centre. Academic support, writing, tutoring, and anything to get the students on their feet was available through the Centre so she spent a lot of time there. While she was away, she had the support of a good friend at school and family and friends back home.
Now that she's graduated and working in tourism, she works alongside seven specialists across the province, working with Indigenous communities, entrepreneurs, and Indigenous businesses on business development and overcoming obstacles. It’s work she loves.
In the summer, she camps and recently bought an RV. She can work from wherever there’s wifi and during the week she goes for walks with her dogs to get away from the computer. Given she’s working from home, she tries to get out every day. She finds ways to create work-life balance, even though she enjoys what she does.
Louie wants people to know about all the opportunities that are out there. She was able to participate in an Indigenous economic development program through Royal Roads for free when they included other Indigenous students from outside their communities. “I see a lot of those opportunities out there and students and youth just have to look for those opportunities and grab on to them,” she smiles.
Pulling away from the Indian Act and moving towards self-determination, Erica Louie is guiding communities with tourism as a vehicle of change. She is a part of a vision for Indigenous communities that looks like freedom and prosperity, and it all starts with the land and inviting people to visit it.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
November 2023 Updates: Erica is currently in the process of completing a Master’s in Business Administration – Executive Management at the Royal Roads University and is expected to graduate in June 2024. She still works with ITBC and continues to support Indigenous communities, businesses, and entrepreneurs in the Tourism Industry.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.