Indigenous storytelling business in New Brunswick garners national award

Monday, March 4th, 2024 3:46pm


Image Caption

Dave Smith of First Nations Storytellers. Photo courtesy of Simon Ratcliffe/ITAC.


“I don’t think this would have worked if I had started this up four, five years ago. People are really listening to this now. They’re hungry for it.” — Dave Smith of First Nations Storytellers
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A decision to switch careers a couple of years ago has paid off for Dave Smith.

Smith is a member of Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation in New Brunswick. He worked in tech support for eight years when he decided to head in a new direction in late January 2022.

Smith is now the general manager of First Nations Storytellers, a company based in Saint John, N.B.

Smith’s business captured the Exceptional Cultural Experience Award at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) awards ceremony held Feb. 28 in Ottawa.

The ceremony was part of the three-day International Indigenous Tourism Conference.

“I went into this stupor for two hours,” Smith said of learning he had won the award. “I wasn’t expecting to win.”

The Exceptional Cultural Experience Award recognizes outstanding delivery of cultural knowledge and guest experiences. Those eligible for the award are Indigenous cultural centres, museums, galleries, retail stores, food establishments, entertainment centres, as well as those who provide spa/retreats, outdoor adventure, wildlife viewing and outdoor guided tours.

Besides being the general manager of his business, Smith is also its main storyteller.

His business partner is Gail Bremner, who handles the business development component of the company.

“We had this idea to do this,” Smith said. “It was clunking around. And we had already incorporated the business.”

So, Smith picked a date to leave his tech support life behind and launched the company.

First Nations Storytellers has various components to it.

One part is the 90-minute guided storytelling walks that Smith provides of Saint John. He discusses the local history of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqi peoples from an Indigenous point of view while walking along the city’s harbour.

Smith also provides three-hour kayaking sessions, again while providing participants with a history of the area.

And through his business Smith also lines up various corporate talks and school visits, with reconciliation being a main theme of his discussions. He’s in the midst of doing 40 school group visits this academic year.

Smith believes he launched his business at an ideal time as reconciliation is now a priority for Canadians.

“I don’t think this would have worked if I had started this up four, five years ago,” he said. “People are really listening to this now. They’re hungry for it.”

Smith said a large number of those participating in the storytelling walks and kayaking sessions are visitors to the city via cruise ships that venture to the province from the United States.

Smith said he purposely started up his business in Saint John. Countless others across Canada also have businesses that discuss reconciliation efforts.

“I started up in Saint John where it didn’t seem anybody else is doing this,” he said. “We were filling that gap.”

Smith is hoping to expand his business this year. A recent attempt to purchase a 26-foot, 10-person canoe to be utilized for storytelling experiences fell through. But Smith is now pursuing other options.

“I’d love to get more than one,” he said.

And he’s hoping to experiment with canoe storytelling sessions as early as this year.

“We’ll probably have a couple of pilot groups once we get those canoes,” he said.

Smith said he was familiar with the ITAC awards ceremony since he had attended conferences in Calgary in 2022 and in Winnipeg last year. He showed up to those events primarily to network.

Besides being a winner of an ITAC award now, Smith also has a new position with the national association.

Earlier this year he was appointed to a four-year term to be the New Brunswick representative on ITAC’s board of directors.

Smith attended the Ottawa conference knowing he was one of three finalists in his award category.

The two other finalists were Wikwemikong Tourism from Ontario and Dene Tours, a Manitoba-based business owned by Florence Hamilton.

ITAC also presented awards to eight other category winners, including the Extraordinary Female Entrepreneur award, which went to Chef Tammy Maki from Sudbury for her chocolate making business Raven Rising. See our story here:…