Aboriginal Tourism in British Columbia
A striking mask by George Hunt Jr., Kwaguilth artist from Fort Rupert, northern Vancouver Island. Todd Curran
Experience Pristine Wilderness and Ancient Cultures
British Columbia has an abundance of spectacular wildlife viewing, set in pristine wilderness that soothes the mind and leaves every visitor with a sense of wonder. Travelers’ spirits recharge while paddling in the Pacific Coast realm of the Orca or Killer Whale, viewing black, kermode and grizzly bears, dolphins, porpoises, eagles, seals, sea lions and several species of giant whale. Days are immersed in First Nations culture, communing with nature and the spirits of Native ancestors, followed by nights in comfortable lodging, the sky blanketed with starlight undiminished by city lights. These are just some experiences offered by British Columbia’s Aboriginal tourism operators, heritage centres, and accommodations.
Nk’Mip Desert and Heritage Centre, in the south central interior celebrates the history and culture of the Okanagan First Nation over thousands of years. The Nk’Mip Desert lands are one of Canada’s three most endangered ecosystems and home to many rare plant and animal species. Todd Curran
Wildlife viewing with First Nations operators offers a unique opportunity to connect with natural beauty, old growth forests, and pictographs, as seen through the eyes of people whose ancestors have lived there for thousands of years. Guests may sea kayak with whales and other marine mammals while learning traditional ways, or walk the shore looking for starfish and sea-urchins in the crystal clear waters while learning about historical methods of selection and harvesting. While enjoying all the comforts of contemporary life, modern explorers will begin to see the nature around them through different eyeglasses, understanding the balance and inter-relationship of all things as the Aboriginal people always have.
Visitors who enter BC’s rugged and remote Great Bear Rainforest with First Nations guides will travel in small groups by motorboat to explore the cultural and ecological wonders of the area and sleep in cozy wilderness cabins. You may catch a glimpse of bears with rich coats shaded chocolate, cinnamon and blonde as well as the more traditional black color. When the salmon are spawning, these glorious creatures hang out and feed in considerable numbers along one of countless streams and rivers. You will learn about the significance of the elusive Kermode or Spirit Bear in Native culture of the area, and hear stories, both ancient and contemporary, about eagles, whales and other wildlife, told from a traditional perspective.
Spirit Bear Lodge offers native-led ecotours on BC’s rugged central coast, the home of the Great Bear Rainforest, the rare white Spirit Bear, and some of the finest pristine temperate wilderness on earth.
Gwaii Hanaas National Park Tops National Geographic Traveler Poll
The National Geographic Sustainable Destinations Resource Center recently conducted a survey of 55 national parks in the U.S. and Canada, spearheaded by National Geographic Traveler Geotourism Editor, Jonathan Tourtellot. Three hundred expert panelists in such fields as park management, archaeology, and historic preservation conducted a thorough review — with some unexpected results.
British Columbia’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site was the top scorer, even though Tourtellot had not previously known of its existence. Located in the Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii, off BC’s central Pacific coast, the park welcomes only 3,000 visitors each year. It is remote and still pristine, unlike many of the better known national parks in North America. There are no roads in the park, making access possible only by boat, kayak, or floatplane.
With over 50% of the employees from the Haida Nation, there is an obvious inter-relatedness between the land and its people. In the Queen Charlotte Islands and in Gwaii Hanaas National Park visitors can experience the living culture of the Haida people, and gain an increased respect for the sacred and spiritual values illustrated everywhere in the area.
In many parts of the province, aboriginal guides escort guests to sacred petroglyphs, pictographs and ancient village sites. Along the coast they guide kayak tours along shoreline routes used as ocean highways long used by humpback, gray, and minke whales in their migrations north or south. Don’t be surprised if the distinctive Orca becomes an occasional escort to your exploration!
In the Cariboo Chilcotin region of central British Columbia, a guided hike will take guests through the spectacular scenery of a semi-arid desert canyon carved by the Chilcotin River, surrounded by hoodoo formations and sweet smelling sagebrush. If you are lucky, you will spot Big Horn Sheep overlooking your arrival in their territory. Among the sites shared are ancient pictographs, startling sand dunes, and historic ranch locations.
Takaya Tours out of North Vancouver offers unique paddling day-adventures with First Nations guides who share songs, stories and visits to ancient village sites on secluded inlets. Takaya Tours
Aboriginal Cuisine: Seasonal Ingredients Fresh from Land and Sea
From time immemorial, the land has fed the First Nations people. They knew which plants to harvest for medicine, which ones would nourish them through the winter, where to find the best root plants, which pine trees bore nuts, and where to pick the best berries. Even today, elders teach their youth how to prepare foods the way they were taught. In sophisticated culinary circles, “fresh, regional and seasonal” are the key words. Indigenous peoples have always lived their lives around the food cycles of the seasons, and the best of current First Nations cuisine is a reflection of this.
Among the more recent additions to the First Nations catalogue of experiences in Vancouver is an intimate restaurant, Salmon ‘n Bannock Bistro, salmonandbannock.net, whose slogan is “We got game!” And indeed they have from a variety of fresh-caught wild fish (no farmed salmon here!) to elk, bison, boar and musk ox, often served with traditional native bannock bread, wild berries and wild rice. The superior-quality wines are exclusively from native-operated vineyards in B.C.
The Riverwalk Café at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre on south Vancouver Island has created a delicious menu using traditional ingredients such as rabbit, salmon, venison, buffalo, and halibut. Most dishes have also been given traditional names, offering diners a fun chance to learn a few words in the local language. Riverwalk Café also offers a one-of-a-kind afternoon tea service that features all local native dishes and bush teas — highly recommended!
Native owned and operated Nk’Mip Cellars in BC’s southern interior invites oenophiles to sample award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot, using grapes exclusively from the Band’s own Inkameep Vineyard. Todd Curran
In the south central part of the province, near the town of Osoyoos on the US border, is the award-winning winery, Nk’Mip Cellars, www.nkmipcellars.com, North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and -operated winery. Situated on a benchland overlooking the shores of Osoyoos Lake, the winery is adjacent to a tract of natural desert land with the vineyards and orchards provide a stunning contrast. The architecture is designed and constructed to display Native art and artifacts, and enhance the beauty and unique nature of the wild sage desert surroundings. The Osoyoos Band shares its history and traditions with all who visit the winery.
Follow up FactsThe Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia (ATBC) website, www.aboriginalbc.com, is a vibrant information travel resource on the diverse indigenous peoples in each region of the province. The website includes an introduction to pre-contact culture, history, and heritage, and it lists cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including powwows, so that visitors may take part in these celebrations when they visit in any region. Comprehensive tour route information helps vacationers navigate within the province from one region to another, offering profiles and full contact information for ABTC members found along the route. You may also sign up for a bi-monthly e-newsletter and order free print brochures delivered by mail.
A free ATBC trip planner mobile app is the perfect platform to make it easy for visitors to find up-to-date information about Indigenous accommodations, attractions and cultural experiences that are operating throughout the province. It also provides free access to an evolving library of traditional songs, legends and languages to enhance travel experiences. Travelers may also use the interactive map to find nearby Indigenous venues and adventures.
For more spotlights on unique First Nations attractions in the popular tourism destination of Vancouver, British Columbia, see our richly-illustrated feature article about Vancouver, In addition, our Travel Article Library collection offers a colorful, informative article about Ontario, Canada’s indigenous tourism educational experiences on Lake Huron’s Manitoulin Island, the largest fresh water island on the planet! Lastly, we recommend our “Tale of Three Lodgings” article with particular spotlight on Wya Point Resort’s nine new eco-friendly luxury lodges on Vancouver Island’s remote Pacific Coast.