You were expecting just totem poles and casinos? Across the country, Canada’s First Nations offer travellers a 21st-century take on Aboriginal tourism as indigenous culture and history come together with luxury lodging and authentic cuisine to radically redefine visitors’ expectations.
In British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, the Osoyoos Indian Band operates North America’s first native-owned winery. Walk the vineyards of Nk’Mip Cellars, high above Osoyoos Lake, where grapes grown on Aboriginal land are pressed into some of Canada’s best reds and whites. The adjacent Spirit Ridge Resort offers luxury accommodation in Canada’s only desert, while the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre highlights the region’s history and natural treasures.
For a dizzying glimpse into Canada’s past, visit the evocatively named Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jumpnear rural Fort Macleod, AB. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aboriginal peoples used this clifftop location for more than 6,000 years to drive bison over the precipice while hunting. Stop in the $10-million interpretive centre for exhibits on the culture of the Plains peoples and to book tours with local Blackfoot guides.
In the remote Northwest Territories, not too far from the Arctic Circle, tag along with Dene First Nations storyteller Doug Lamalice for an extraordinary tour, Walk a Mile in My Moccasins. Deep inside Twin Falls Territorial Park, join Lamalice for a fire-feeding ceremony led by a Dene elder. Then embark on a 2.5-km (1.6-mi) walk through the traditional territory of the K’atlo’deeche peoples, learning how they lived off the land in the harshest of conditions as well as about their rich ceremonies and the challenges of contemporary life.
Back east in Ontario, Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron—the world’s largest lake island—is the setting for the Great Spirit Circle Trail, a network of Aboriginal-guided adventure, dining and craft experiences. Grab a paddle for a canoe tour and listen to the stories of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi peoples while gliding along the shoreline. Spend the night on an island “glampground,”where traditional tipis have been outfitted with wood floors and plush beds. Come morning, harvest traditional foods and cook bannock bread over an open fire.
Authentic experiences needn’t always be remote. Just a short drive outside Québec City in Wendake is the Huron-Wendat Nation homeland. Here visitors can spend the night in a traditional longhouse looked after by an Aboriginal firekeeper and also enjoy a gourmet take on native recipes over a three-course dinner. The experience is part of the larger Huron Village, which includes a four-star boutique hotel modelled after a longhouse, a museum and historic sites and artifacts dating back to the 16th century.
Finally, Atlantic Canada’s rich Aboriginal heritage is on display at the Metepenagiag Heritage Park in New Brunswick. Home of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, the village is the oldest continually inhabited site in the province. The museum outlines the rich, 3,000-year history of the locals, offering visitors chances to sample fresh moose meat and bake traditional bread in hot sand. You can also spend the night in the adjoining four-star outdoor adventure lodge, which serves gourmet Aboriginal cuisine on the banks of the Little Southwest Miramichi River.
Canada’s Aboriginal tourism experiences are as diverse as the country’s myriad indigenous communities. For additional authentic offerings, check out official websites, including Aboriginal Tourism BC and Quebec Aboriginal Tourism.