Alberta: a Canadian province known for the Rocky Mountains, Banff and Lake Louise; but if you want to delve deeper into its roots – look no further than these Indigenous experiences.
Long before the British and French colonised the southwestern region now known as Alberta, Indigenous peoples lived off the land and with it, each tribe forged their own identities through art, cooking and clothing.
Joe Urie, of the Métis people and founder of Jasper Tour Company, handpicks his top Indigenous tourism experiences in the region for curious travellers who want to learn and become transformed by centuries of knowledge passed down from generations of an entire people.
“Come armed not with weapons or ideology, but with open hearts and minds. With a desire to meet the original peoples of this place I call Kitaskinâw,” he says. “See, feel, taste and take part in the stories and ceremonies to ground your feet in the soil of these lands.”
The crème de la crème of Indigenous experiences in Alberta; a state of the art $9m centre on Smoky Lake’s Victoria Trail – the oldest road in the province, which native people have used for travelling, trading and settling for hundreds of years. This lodge, which celebrated its grand opening only last month (September 2022), is a place where travellers can stay for days or weeks and become rejuvenated by the serenity of the land, or come for the day and pick from the plethora of experiences, such as canoeing along the North Saskatchewan river, a wildlife safari through Bison Plains, and its signature archery activity.
Housed in a replica wooden fort, this museum showcases Indigenous culture through the ages, right up to contemporary fashion fit for the front cover of Vogue. See beaded clothing handcrafted by Tania Big Plume, learn about the importance of women in native society, and become inspired by the pivotal role philosopher and statesman Chief Walking Buffalo, born Tatanga Mani and also known as George McLean, played in paving the way for reconciliation.
Not all Indigenous culture is historical. Take a look at what contemporary native art looks like at the Jason Carter Gallery, where you’ll find bold, colourful pop art and sleek stone sculptures. If you flew into Calgary airport, you’ll recognise his work as the first thing you see when you enter the country. If you’re lucky enough, you might even get to meet the man himself. He says: “My experiences as an urban Indigenous youth has influenced everything I’ve done in my life. It’s my way of taking back the land with my interpretation exploring my ancestors pasts.”
Along the ice field parkway, through the spine of the Rocky Mountains, is the Athabasca glacier in Jasper National Park. Strap on your provided spikes and let Tim Patterson of the interior Salish people guide you on an 8km (5mi) round walk across the ice while hearing about the Indigenous perspective of the mountains; how they harvested alpine for medicine, hunted on the dangerous terrain and the mythology behind these snow-capped peaks. Not only is this educational, but one of the most beautiful walks in the mountains – plus, it’s accessible for any level of walker.
Ever wondered what braised bison tongue tastes like? This is your chance to try. Chef Scott Iserhoff, of the Mushkego Cree, brings a taste of his heritage through the dishes he concocts at his Edmonton takeout. For the full experience, try and catch one of Iserhoff’s cooking classes or pop-ups, where the chef himself takes you on a journey through the history of native cooking, and ends it with a delicious meal.
Bringing a new meaning to the “gift of nature”, this trail shows you how Indigenous people survived by using the land to harvest plants for food and medicine. As well as an insightful tour through the towering birch woods, there is also the added bonus of exploring Cascade Ponds and seeing their aqua blue waters, created by the limescale crystals that mix in the mountain water.
Like Métis Crossing, this is a place that celebrates all things Indigenous; a place to immerse yourself in the Siksika and Blackfoot culture through conversations, art and experiences. Surrounded by a Canadian National Heritage Site in the Prairies that was once the most important buffalo hunting ground of the tribe, the stunningly designed building offers a place for exhibits, while outside you can spend a night under the stars in the comfort of a tipi.
In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is a Unesco World Heritage Site that prides itself on preserving the knowledge and practices of the Blackfoot people, as well as celebrating the bison as a symbol of life. The 300m (984ft) cliffs were used for 5,500 years by the tribe to kill bison. Hunters drove herds off the edge using specialised techniques. They then got food from the meat, tools from the bone, hide for clothing and dwellings, which provided the people with everything they needed. Learn all about the ancient techniques at the site’s museum and interpretative centre.
You can’t mention Indigenous tourism in Alberta without talking about the multi-award winning Warrior Women experience in Jasper. Close your eyes and let the drumming show and eerie melodies of mother and daughter Matricia and Mackenzie Brown transport you into a different time, connecting you to mother earth. Hear stories of Cree legends around a fire, or while walking through Jasper National Park. There are performances, workshops, tour shows, guided experiences and training sessions all available to book through their website.
The Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park – a vast historically themed attraction with recreated architecture from the late 1800s – explores what life was like through conversations with over 50 Elders, historians, educators, and community members, as well as with stories, music and artwork. After learning, you can spend hours walking around and trying out the different immersive activities that the 158acre (64ha) wooded parkland has to offer.
Here at Culture Trip we firmly believe that all travel should be culturally conscious and sustainable both to the planet, but also specifically to the places and people you visit. That is why all of our small-group, Local Insider trips are designed to give you an authentic, immersive local experience that treats local culture with the respect it deserves.