MY NWT: Sharing Aboriginal Culture

The warm and engaging Joe Bailey, owner and operator of North Star Adventures in Yellowknife, is a natural storyteller. From being chased by an angry bear in the Mackenzie Mountains to camping under the light of the dancing Aurora Borealis in -40C temperatures, he has many tales to tell his guests. “I don’t call them clients,” he says.
Joe, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, was raised by his grandparents on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake and, later, in Yellowknife’s Old Town. “I was taught the language and how to live on the land and how to respect the land.” He was barely in kindergarten when he was out checking fishnets and rabbit snares with his grandfather. “I was pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill to the truck and I was only five or six years old,” he recalls.
Now he shares his experience with guests who sign up for tours with his Aboriginal-owned and operated tourism business. “Just because of the way I was raised, I want to share cultural experiences,” he says. “I want them to experience the culture.”
His cultural tours include traditional bannock making; dreamcatcher making; a visit with a traditional Dene elder; a traditional bison harvest; and, a traditional meal of caribou stew, bannock and caribou ribs. “There’s nothing fancy about it,” Joe says of the food “I cook it the way I was raised. As we’re eating, I talk to guests about caribou and they get to learn more about my culture.”
One of his most popular tours is the Aboriginal Culture & Ice Road City Tour. It focuses on Yellowknife’s local Aboriginal community and its history. He takes guests to Old Town, the village of N’Dilo, along the ice road to Dettah and for a visit to the Ashoona Art Studios to see Inuit artwork and perhaps get the opportunity to watch one of the carvers in action. The tour often ends with a hot beverage and doughnuts at a Canadian institution: Tim Hortons.
“I just enjoy meeting people and showcasing the North,” Joe says. “I want to make sure my guests have a good time.” He also likes learning about other people’s cultures. “When I was in elementary school, I was probably the only kid to have a penpal in Africa. The world was much larger back then before the internet.” Now, North Star Adventures brings new cultures to his doorstep with guests mostly from Asia and Europe.
Joe’s operation is a family business. Daughter Melissa handles bookings. Son John transports guests between the hotels and the boat launch. Then Joe takes them out to share his culture, community and stories. “I can showcase places in Yellowknife and connect them to growing up here,” he says. For example, he takes people to the place where he played kick the can on Ragged Ass Road.
“The common denominator for me is to make sure they have a good time when they’re here,” he says. “I want people to talk not just about North Star Adventures but also the Northwest Territories.”