Indigenous Canada: Seven Eye-Opening Experiences for Your Next Trip

The nine First Nations totem poles in Stanley Park are an extraordinary example of Indigenous art
The nine First Nations totem poles in Stanley Park are an extraordinary example of Indigenous art | © Naum Chayer / Alamy Stock Photo

For an authentic, unforgettable Canadian adventure, tap into Indigenous travel experiences that can take you far beyond what you thought you knew about this massive country.

Indigenous peoples make up almost five percent of the population of Canada; over 600 communities represent more than 50 First Nations and speak more than 70 different Indigenous languages. Their cultural connection to the land and sea offers a unique and fascinating insight into Canadian heritage that most visitors never experience. If you want to truly understand Canada, you need to explore it from an Indigenous perspective. Here’s how:

Seek out grizzly bears on Vancouver Island

At First Nations-owned and operated resort Knight Inlet Lodge, magnificent experiences are guaranteed. You can choose to watch from a boat or from one of the lodge’s viewing platforms, both of which will allow you to safely observe these majestic creatures frolicking in the river and catching salmon. Tracking tours are also available, where you will be taken out into the surrounding forest to look for signs of wildlife and make plaster casts of bear prints. There are also plenty of opportunities to see orcas and other ocean wildlife. Accessible only by floatplane, this incredibly wild and remote floating resort offers epic stays and plenty of ways to experience how the Indigenous peoples here are connected to the land and sea.

Knight Inlet Lodge is located in a beautiful, remote setting | Courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Canada

Sleep in a traditional longhouse in Quebec

The Huron Traditional Site, on the Huron-Wendat reservation, is a cultural center and museum that showcases the history of the Huron-Wendat First Nation. It also offers visitors a chance to spend the night in a traditional longhouse, where, according to tradition, a firekeeper tends the fire and guides your dreams. The package includes access to a room at an adjacent hotel with modern amenities, as well as a traditional breakfast at the onsite restaurant.

Spend the night in a traditional longhouse at the Huron Traditional Site | Courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Canada

Urban adventures in Vancouver

Indigenous-owned and operated businesses in Vancouver make it easy to see how Indigenous culture thrives in Canada’s cities. Skwachàys Lodge describes itself as Canada’s first Indigenous arts hotel, and its 18 luxuriously appointed suites are designed in collaboration with local Indigenous artists. The hotel entrance passes through a dedicated gallery space that showcases the work of Vancouver’s urban Indigenous community. In the rooftop garden there’s a traditional First Nations sweat lodge, where you can sign up for a private sweat-lodge purification ceremony led by a qualified sweat-lodge-keeper. It is also worth noting that the hotel is a social enterprise that helps fund the Vancouver Native Housing Society, so you’re doing good by staying here.

Vancouver’s huge Stanley Park is famous for its collection of highly photogenic totem poles, but if you want to do more than just take a picture, sign up for a Talking Trees Tour led by Talaysay Tours – you’ll walk through the park and learn about the Coast Salish people that lived on this land before the city was formed. Afterward, sample local fish and game served at Salmon n’ Bannock, where traditional ingredients are turned into modern dishes, or drop by the fun Mr. Bannock food truck, where tacos and burgers are served on traditional fry bread (bannock).

Left: One of nine First Nations totem poles on display in Stanley Park | Right: Stanley Park | Left: © travelstock44 / Alamy Stock Photo | Right: © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Enjoy a beach cookout on Prince Edward Island

On the red sand shores of Prince Edward Island, attend a clambake with a twist – you will help members of the Lennox Island First Nation cook up fresh foraged clams on a beach campfire. Meanwhile, bannock is baked in the sand, under hot embers, then served with butter and molasses. As you feast, community members will share stories of growing up on the island and the culture and traditions that still shape life there today.

Whether you enjoy a meal at Salmon n’ Bannock or a clambake on Prince Edward Island, the food is bound to be delicious | © Jeremy Inglett

Chill with an Indigenous family at a wilderness camp in the Yukon Territory

When you arrive at Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp, you will be welcomed into the lives and culture of the Allen family, whose ancestors have lived and hunted on this majestic land for generations. Located on the edge of Kluane National Park and surrounded by mountains, the camp is an unspoilt retreat. Throughout your stay, family members will take you out in search of wildlife such as bears and eagles, ice-fishing, and canoeing, as well as share traditional stories and local ways of life.

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Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp is located on Kluane Lake, one of the most stunning locations in the Yukon © Peter MatherJames Allen of Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp transports you back in time with stories from the land, his people and his youth © Peter MatherJoin the family on wildlife hikes through these remarkable landscapes Courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Canada

Attend a powwow

All summer across Canada, Indigenous peoples gather at powwows, which visitors are welcome to attend. These meetings are part cultural display, part festival, and showcase cultural traditions mixed with modern expressions of Indigenous creativity. Ancient stories are told through drumming and electrifying dance performances, but at many powwows, you’re also likely to hear diverse and powerful messages from Indigenous hip-hop crews as they take to the stage.

Visitors are welcome to attend a powwow and learn about Indigenous cultural traditions | © RICHARD GEOFFRION

Learn to make traditional medicine in Alberta

Take a medicine-themed walk through the Boreal Forest in Sundre with Mahikan Trails and your knowledgeable First Nations guide will explain how plants are used as medicine from an Indigenous perspective. This operator also runs two-day workshops on how to make traditional plant-based medicines and salves that you can take home, as well as other Indigenous crafting workshops such as beading and leatherwork.

Mahikan Trails will pair you with a knowledgeable First Nations guide who will teach you about local medicinal plants | Courtesy of Indigenous Tourism Canada

This is just a small sample of the many outstanding Indigenous tourism opportunities on offer in Canada. Whatever you’re into and wherever you’re planning to go, be sure to check out the Destination Indigenous website for further inspiration.

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