Indigenous Entrepreneur, Nature Lover, Career Builder, Opportunity Finder
Meet Brian Still: Indigenous entrepreneur, nature lover, career builder, opportunity finder. Brian, from Whitefish River First Nation, is the owner and operator of two businesses. The first is Among The Trees Glamping, offering two Insta-worthy luxe geodomes tucked into a hillside canopy on Georgian Bay’s Birch Island. Business #2 is Stillwater Fishing, a fishing charter and tour company in the gorgeous Manitoulin area. Can you say career goals? Here, Brian talks about motivation, mentors and more when it comes to a career in tourism.
What’s the best thing about your career in tourism?
Getting to connect with people from all over, and with all different backgrounds. It’s a special feeling getting to spend the day with a person when they are truly themselves and they don’t have the stress and pressure of work.
It’s about creating that experience that I know is going to last a lifetime with them, whether it’s catching a big fish or a family sitting around the fire out among the trees, roasting marshmallows. It’s just that connection with loved ones—I think is the most important to me. It allows families to create memories and spend time together.
How did you get started in a career in tourism?
I was pretty much born and raised in tourism—my parents owned a marina here in McGregor Bay. So at a very young age, I got that interaction with people from all over the world, that kind of really stuck in with me. I loved hanging out with people, especially when they were on their vacations; it was always their happy time. So that led me into pursuing a career in tourism. I also wanted to be my own boss. I love the feeling of success of putting so much effort into something and then have it work out.
When you were guiding fishing trips, you were also creating content. How did that lead to other opportunities in tourism?
I love bringing a camera with me, capturing the days on the boat, capturing the clients having fun. I would post that on social media at the end of the day, and that led to my social media following growing, which opened more doors for me. I pursued an opportunity with Indigenous Tourism Ontario as their marketing specialist, and that allowed me to get into different aspects rather than just straight-up fishing. I was helping Indigenous tourism operators market their businesses to people from across Turtle Island and the rest of the world. So that work was really, really fun. I got to meet a lot of great people. Capturing Indigenous people's experiences and telling their stories to a large audience was just very interesting work.
Why did you want to come back to being an entrepreneur?
As much as I loved my job in marketing, I still just had that drive of wanting to be on to the next project, wanting to start something new. So I chose to step back into the entrepreneurship world and started a new business, Among The Trees Glamping, which connects the dots: in between my fishing now I can welcome guests 24 hours a day. And that’s been just a great experience transitioning from one aspect of the tourism industry into the operator side.
What are the range of career opportunities available in the tourism industry?
The possibilities are kind of endless. It’s a very unique career. It’s doing what you love to do, so it creates a great work-life balance. I think that’s the best benefit: you’re making a living doing things that you enjoy, but then you can also share with others so that they can enjoy. And it’s just a really great experience. It feels great.
How do you integrate cultural knowledge or experiences in your companies?
At Stillwater Fishing and Among The Trees, there are plenty of ways to get connected to Indigenous cultures and communities. I like to work together with surrounding businesses and organizations such as Wikwemikong Tourism and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. These organizations are industry leaders, and they do the best telling their story on their terms. We offer itineraries so that you can gain knowledge, connect with the culture, and just experience being out on the land.
What support and resources are there for Indigenous youth who want to get into the tourism industry or start a tourism business?
For Indigenous youth, there are a lot of opportunities out there through organizations such as Indigenous Tourism Ontario: you can reach marketing support, you can get mentorship from Indigenous business advisors, they’re happy to help guide you through all the processes help you access funding. There are great organizations like FedNor and FedDev that are there to support Indigenous operators in Indigenous communities. Reach out, build those connections, and let them assist you to explore the opportunities that'll open doors for you.
What kind of support can Indigenous people can get from communities in terms of mentorship, personal mentorship, and guidance?
In First Nation communities, Indigenous communities, there are a lot of tourism operators who are doing very well for themselves. And in my experience, they are very willing to help. They want to continue to see their communities grow. They want to continue to see financial stability for Indigenous people. They want to see people be able to make livings for themselves on their terms in their communities.
So I suggest reaching out to somebody you see on Instagram or a business you know in your community who’s doing well, and let them guide you, you know, hit them up and ask, “How did they get there? What did they do? What are the hardships? How can I be successful?” Ask them to share their knowledge and experience and it will be a great way to help you pursue a career in tourism. Just stay connected because we need to do this together. It’s collaboration over competition; working together in our communities we can build a stronger economy and lead to a lot more opportunities for others.
If you have one piece of advice for a young Indigenous person who’s looking to get into the tourism industry, what would that be?
My advice is just to go for it. If there’s something that you love doing in your home community, and it makes you happy and you want to teach people and share that knowledge, go for it. We grow together and support each other. Because people are there to help and everybody wants to see you succeed. So if you go for it, just keep trying; it’s gonna get harder and harder as you pursue a career. But in the end, the payoff is great. And I can tell you that from personal experience!
Rock your Resources
- Look into funding, initiatives, programs and more through federal economic development orgs like FedNor and FedDev Ontario
- For Indigenous-owned companies and Indigenous communities, Indigenous Tourism Ontario offers access to sales, marketing and business development programs that build capacity to produce quality tourism goods and services
- Connect with other tourism entrepreneurs at Tourism Excellence North, part of Destination Northern Ontario (DNO). DNO can hook you up with info about investment attraction, product development, marketing and communications, workforce development and industry training and partnership initiatives
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.