British Columbia is home to more than 200 unique Indigenous communities, providing virtually limitless opportunities to explore, experience and learn.
June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, with National Indigenous Peoples Day on Saturday, June 21. Chosen to coincide with summer solstice and the start of a season of berry picking and fishing, powwows and gatherings for Indigenous Peoples, it’s a chance to learn more about the cultures and contributions made by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and reflect on the historic and ongoing challenges for Indigenous communities.
This year’s public celebrations are limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but from virtual experiences to restaurants, galleries, tour operators, hoteliers and others welcoming guests for amazing experiences, you have many opportunities to explore Indigenous culture as you plan this summer’s local getaways.
It’s essential to remember that as travel restrictions ease in BC and many Indigenous tourism operators welcome guests, others maintain strict emergency response measures, including closure for the remainder of 2020. Visitors are encouraged to respect those guidelines set by individual Indigenous communities.
Here’s a look at just some of the tourism providers welcoming guests today or in the weeks ahead – visit indigenousbc.com for a full look at what’s open now, and check in as you plan your getaway for future openings.
On northern Vancouver Island, rest your head at Port Hardy’s Kwa’lilas Hotel, designed with local cedar in the style of a traditional big house. A kwak’wala word meaning “a place to sleep,” Kwa’lilas was chosen by a group of Elders “in hopes that travellers and guests would find a peaceful rest after a day of exploration.”
In the Shuswap community of Chase, Quaaout Lodge is more than a beautiful lake-front hotel – it’s your base for a variety of Shuswap cultural experiences like drum and rattle making, pictograph painting, and smudging, or join a knowledgeable guide on a tour through Secwepemc territory, learning about Shuswap traditional landmarks and Secwepemc history. Local wineries, outdoor adventures, and the Secwepemc Museum & Heritage Park round out the many possibilities!
Indigenous-led tours can be a great way to experience the local landscape, history and culture.
On the Lower Mainland, Talaysay Tours, for example, offers authentic experiences around Vancouver, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast, or join Takaya Tours to explore scenic North Vancouver waters by 25-foot, traditional-style ocean-going canoes, as guides share the traditions and history of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation through legends, songs and stories.
From Port Hardy, join k’awat’si Tours to experience North Island Indigenous culture through boat tours, wildlife viewing and visits to remote beaches, among other offerings.
From nearby Port McNeill, expert guides from Sea Wolf Adventures share their rich Kwakwaka’wakw culture with guests through whale and wildlife viewing and cultural tours.
In the Okanagan, a visit to the Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, is a must with some tasting fees supporting the Desert Cultural Centre for the Preservation of the Okanagan Language.
Opening July 1, join Xwísten Experience Tours in Lillooet and visit the Bridge River Fishing Grounds, the fishing area of the St’át’imc People. Learn about the traditional wind-dried method of preserving salmon still used today, tour an archaeological village site with more than 80 identified pit houses (s7ístken) – the traditional winter homes of the St’át’imc people – and finish with a salmon barbecue, complete with salmon, rice, salad and bannock, with a traditional dessert of whipped berries (sxúsum).
Art is entrenched in Indigenous culture and history, and galleries can offer a wonderful opportunity to experience the work of local carvers, weavers, sculptors and painters.
The Comox Valley has long been home to the I-Hos Gallery, sharing the talents of traditional and contemporary Northwest Coast artists through masks, prints, gold and silver jewellery, wood carvings and more.
In Alert Bay, the U’mista Culture Centre features a permanent exhibit of the “Potlatch Collection,” repatriated masks and ceremonial objects that had been removed when potlatches were outlawed. One of the longest-running BC cultural facilities, U’mista was founded in 1980 to showcase these treasured pieces.
In Whistler, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre reopens to the public June 26, sharing cultural knowledge and traditions of the neighbouring Squamish and Lil’wat Nations through exhibitions and tours – all from a spectacular location on six forested acres along Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler’s Upper Village.
From delicious bannock served in numerous ways at the Kekuli Café in Merrit and Westbank to modern takes on traditional cuisine, food is a delicious way to experience Indigenous culture.
Salmon ‘n Bannock is Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned-and-operated restaurant. Using organic, free-range game meats and seafood caught fresh in coastal BC waters, savour dishes like barbecue smoked salmon salad with wild boar bacon on bannock, bannock French toast, Pow Wow Power Salad and so many more inspired possibilities.
While visiting the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, stop in at the Thunderbird Café for a unique menu inspired by traditional Squamish and Lil’wat Nation cuisine, including smoked salmon bannock paninis, bison pot pie and xuxem berry tea.
And in Osoyoos, relax on the Nk’Mip Cellars patio with exceptional local wine paired with fresh, farm-to-table innovations using traditional Indigenous techniques by Chef Orlin Godfrey.
For more Indigenous travel operators welcoming guests in 202o, visit indigenousbc.com