December 7, 2017
You’ll often find James and Maureen Pokiak outdoors, ulu-in-hand, preparing whitefish and whale dry meat on the wooden drying racks in Tuktoyaktuk. Perched on the coastline of the Arctic Ocean and surrounded by wilderness, it can feel like the edge of the world. It’s this striking ruggedness and the traditional way of life that attract visitors to the community and to the Pokiaks’ tourism company, Ookpik Tours and Adventures.
The business is a family-affair; started by James’ brother Boogie in the mid-80s before James and Maureen entered the tourism business in 1996. The family saw it as an economic opportunity to fill the niche market of adventure travellers while also sharing their culture.
“Some visitors come with preconceived ideas. They’re against hunting, fishing, and trapping but we attempt to open their minds. I’m a strong advocate for telling people about our way of life, culture, and traditions, and you can see it on their faces as they begin to understand. It’s amazing,” says James who has welcomed everyone from former Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin to the famed Canadian radio host Stuart McLean.
Like many northern businesses, the Pokiak’s have been flexible and creative to accommodate changing markets. When big-game hunting experienced a decline, they worked with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) to develop marketing strategies and apply for program funding to upgrade equipment such as snowmobiles and outboard motors. In addition to their work with ITI, they cite their excellent relationships with the town of Inuvik’s tour operators and other northern hunting outfitters as instrumental in their success, since they often promoted tours to Tuk and Arctic adventure travel as add-ons.
Today, James and Maureen often recruit a few locals to help out during peak season – and their busiest season could be on the way.
With the newly opened Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway it is anticipated that there will be an influx of tourists eager to journey on Canada’s northern-most highway. The Pokiak’s have been making preparations over the last few years and have several specialty tours in the works to ensure their Tuktoyaktuk-operation benefits from the economic opportunities that come with the new highway.
“There is a lot of opportunity within the community for people who are gung-ho and willing to step up to the plate. You have to be committed,” James says.
James and Maureen’s tour packages and hospitality earned them the title of NWT Tourism Operator of the Year Award in 2003. Since then, they have continued to evolve their operations and remain a staple within Tuktoyaktuk’s burgeoning tourism industry.
The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) has released the first Performance & Measures Report for the 2013 NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy. It includes formal performance measures of the Strategy’s goals and objectives alongside success stories about NWT residents whose work and investments are contributing to the economic strength and prosperity of their communities and the economy.