Montreal activist and tour guide Donovan King continues to push to change a bylaw that makes it illegal to hire guides who don’t have a permit – and for more Indigenous representation – and his letter demanding these things was answered by the city this week.
Bylaw G-2 prohibits individuals from leading a tour in the city unless they have a license from an accredited institution such as the Institut de tourisme et d’hotellerie du Quebec (ITHQ).
“It’s an extremely competitive program, only one out of five applicants get in,” said King, who is the owner and operator of Griffin Tours. “Not surprisingly, every single person in my class was white – there wasn’t a single person of colour.”
“Then I realized this tour guiding cartel – because you do need this license to legally give a tour – is about 98 percent white.”
In September 2019, King was hoping to begin the hiring process for new tour guides and he expressed, in a letter to Marie-Eve Bordeleau, Montreal’s commissioner of Indigenous Affairs, that it was imperative he be able to hire Indigenous guides.
“For the sake of authenticity and truth, I absolutely need to hire Indigenous guides who understand colonization and its devastating results,” he wrote on September 30.
The first “Hidden Histories of Montreal” post-colonial tour was led by King himself on August 24 and he had hoped to have guides hired and trained by October.
“It involves looking at the history through a realistic lens,” he said.
The tour not only includes Indigenous issues such as genocide and lack of representation, he said, but also covers the racist statues, the hidden cemeteries like in Dorchester Square, and the crimes at McGill University and the Allan Memorial Institute.
Bordeleau finally responded to his letter on Monday.
In her response, she said that the city of Montreal has resolutely set out on the road to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
“The city of Montreal is hard at work developing it’s very first reconciliation program … which will be presented in the coming months,” wrote Bordeleau.
“In order to allow guides or Indigenous elders to present tours in the city, a modification of Regulation G-2 will be necessary,” she said, adding that she encouraged King to partner with a recognized Indigenous organization to promote the progress of the proposal.
Kimberly Cross is a tourism development agent for Kahnawake Tourism.
Over a year ago she was contacted by King about his concerns and the actions he was taking to combat the issue, she told The Eastern Door.
“The inability of our Indigenous guides to offer tours due to the laws were known to me and was something I had hoped to overcome through my work,” said Cross.
Kahnawake Tourism hopes to grow to include guided tours from the Montreal area by bus into Kahnawake, she said, but with current laws, it’s not possible.
According to a 2016 census published on Regroupement des centres d’amitié Autochtones du Quebec’s website, Montreal has over 34,000 Indigenous residents.
“There is a lack of Indigenous representation in Montreal right now,” Cross said. “Other organizations such as the Quebec Aboriginal Tourism and Indigenous Tourism Canada have expressed the importance to have authentic Indigenous leadership in tourism offerings in Montreal.
“Knowledge sharing is key to reconciliation. No matter the amount of contributions, actual change comes from knowledge,” she said. “Future generations need to know the real history and the original people of the land.”