When it comes to summer vacation planning, there’s no better time to explore our own country — and there’s no better way to do it than through the eyes of Canada’s First Nations people.
“We have lived here for more than 15,000 years and many of the stories you will hear are about our connection and relationship with the land,” says Dené Sinclair, director of marketing for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).
With around 200 members, ITAC promotes Indigenous-owned and controlled tours and attractions, many of which are run by local small business owners and entrepreneurs. “You can be sure you’ll be receiving an authentic experience that’s rooted in community benefits,” says Sinclair.
Here are just five ways to learn more about the history and culture of Canada’s First Nations people.
Painted Warriors, Sundre, Alberta
At Painted Warriors, every skills-based experience is tailored to your interests — whether it’s learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, survive in the bush, ride a horse or prepare raw food. However, each begins in the same way — with a traditional smudging ceremony, which cleanses you and ensures you have clear eyes and clear heart. This is particularly important before hunting. “I would rather going without meat than wound an animal,” explains co-owner Tracey Klettl, who is of Cree/Mohawk and Irish decent.
Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, Manitoulin Island, Ontario
The Objibwe Cultural Centre has been in operation since 1974, but don’t expect your visit to focus on ancient history. In addition to a contemporary art gallery and museum, it’s also home to a healing lodge, Objibwe immersion school, and a radio station. To get the most out of your visit, check the events calendar beforehand for workshops, including free Objibwe language classes.
Sea Wolf Adventures, Vancouver Island, B.C.
The boat ride to the “place where the salmon gather” at Xakwikan (Thompson Sound) takes time, which is a good thing — it allows owner Mike Willie plenty of time to share traditional stories from the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation people. Once there, you’ll witness grizzly bears feeding near where ancient villages once stood. For a more immersive experience, combine your wildlife tour with a visit to the U’mista Cultural Centre, a museum dedicated to telling the story of the people of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.
Mahikan Trails, Canmore, Alberta
During a ice walk through Grotto Canyon, guide Jordan Ede doesn’t just explain the medicinal uses of the area’s plants — he also points out hard-to-find pictographs painted around 4,000 years ago. The ice walk is just one of the many programs offered by Mahikan Trails, a tour company run by Jordan’s mom Brenda Holder. Holder, who is of Cree-Iroquois-Métis descent, learned many of her traditional skills from her grandmother, a medicine woman. Today, she passes these skills along to guests on half-day and overnight programs, including bushcraft training, hide tanning, and moccasin making.
Wapusk Adventures, Churchill, Manitoba
If you’re travelling this far north, going dogsledding through the boreal wilderness is almost a mandatory rite of passage. At Wapusk Adventures, owner David Daley — who traces his Aboriginal ancestry back to a Métis community in the Red River Valley—says that sled dogs are a “gift from the Creator.” “We are proud of our Métis heritage and proud of living ‘up north,” reads Wapusk’s website. “We do our best to give visitors a little glimpse of the traditional and the modern Métis lifestyle.”