12 Ways to Get Close to Canada’s Aboriginal History
If you’re after an authentic Canadian experience, start at the beginning. The country’s rich Aboriginal history is preserved in attractions, events, and adventures, found in every province, from coast to coast.
Here are 12 immersive Aboriginal tourism experiences that will bring you closer to the culture and history of these First Peoples.
Manito Ahbee Festival
From the moment the drummers strike up a pounding rhythm, and the women in elaborate shawls spread their butterfly capes, you’ll know Winnipeg’s Manito Ahbee Festival is a special event. At a traditional Aboriginal gathering place, watch as pow wow performers in feathered headdresses share the spotlight with Aboriginal hip hop musicians. Feel your whole body move as Cree, Ojibwa, and Dakota Sioux dancers spin and sing. And when the "intertribal dance" is called out, that’s your cue to join in.
Great Spirit Circle Trail
The Great Spirit Circle Trail shows visitors the lives of the Anishinaabe people of Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater lake island in the world. From waterfalls to breathtaking views, the natural beauty of the island is only surpassed by the culture and tradition that it houses. Seven First Nations reserves can be found on Manitoulin, and the rich Aboriginal history is extremely important to all of its residents. The Great Spirit Circle Trail puts you in the hands of a local guide, who will walk you through the history of the island, its nature, and its peoples. Hear their stories, share in their food, and even take part in a traditional ceremony.
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia is a great place to hike and camp, but it’s also an opportunity to discover relics of the Mi’kmaq People. Stone carvings known as petroglyphs can be found throughout the park, and contain images which portray hunting, fishing, and other snapshots of traditional Mi’kmaq life. If you’re not interested in taking a tour, you can hire a canoe and paddle the same waterways used by local Aboriginal peoples for generations. Just beware; the park takes its name from Kejimkujik Lake, which apparently means “tired muscles” in Mi’kmaq, referencing just how hard it is to canoe across.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre
For close to 6000 years, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was used by countless nomadic tribes to hunt buffalo, making it one of the oldest and best-preserved communal buffalo hunting sites in North America. Visiting the award-winning interpretive centre is a highlight of any trip to the windswept Alberta landscape. Move through the timeline of the legendary buffalo jump to see how the First Nations learned to adapt the landscape to assist in the hunt. Listen to First Nations guides recount life on the plains and demonstrate how the tribes worked together to use every part of the animal. During the summer months, watch and join in as First Nations dancers and drummers perform, or take a hike to the drive lanes to see how the bison were outwitted.
The Huron Traditional Site
Only 15 minutes from Quebec City is the Huron Traditional Site. Located in Wendake, on the Huron-Wendat Reservation, this authentic recreation of a Huron village allows you to connect with the province’s Aboriginal history. Take a guided tour, participate in unique games, join in a craft workshop, or go on a shaman’s quest. End your visit with a traditional meal in the NEK8ARRE restaurant.
‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum
In the Hazelton community of Northern British Columbia lies the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum, a re-created Gitxsan village. Seven longhouses, the first of which was built in 1959, replicate a district that stood on the same riverside site for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years. Look up at totem poles and visit the smoke house and food cache.
Spirit Bear Lodge
Head into the traditional territory of the ancient Kitasoo/Xai'xais People to seek out the mysterious Kermode (Spirit) bear. The culture and heritage of this People has always been linked to the land and the animals, so who better to guide you on a journey in the Great Bear Rainforest in search of this near-mythic, cream-white bear. Hear about the Spirit Bear’s mythology from local First Nations, and visit significant Aboriginal sites, including a traditional Big House.
Great Northern Arts Festival
During 56 summer days, the Northwest Territories experience 24 hours of daylight. Rather than worry about how it might affect their sleep, locals jumped at the opportunity to celebrate this unique setting. For more than a quarter of a century, the Great Northern Arts Festival has showcased the works of 120 Northern painters, sculptors, musicians, and First Nations artists from across the country, all under the midnight sun. Watch a Gwich'in woman create handmade Aboriginal dolls, see a polar bear emerge from a soapstone in the hands of a native carver, and dance to Inuit hip-hop.
West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited
Carvings, etchings, and stonecut prints are the bread and butter of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited, a collection of Inuit artists based in Cape Dorset. The co-operative has existed for more than 50 years, and has since become arguably the Inuit art capital of the world. On the shores of the Hudson Strait, these artists ply their trade to the delight of the many art lovers that make the trip to the island year-after-year.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park
For over 6,000 years, Wanuskewin Heritage Park was a meeting place for Northern Plains Indians. Long before the pyramids, the Pantheon or the Great Wall of China, Saskatchewan’s First Peoples gathered here to hunt buffalo, worship, and celebrate. Now, the park is a place to learn about that culture and its history. Explore educational trails that wind through the valley. Visit archeological digs full of tipi rings, stones cairns, pottery fragments, animal bones, and more. Stay overnight in a tipi and listen to traditional stories around a campfire as you enjoy tea and fresh bannock bread.
Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park might sound intimidating, but this Yukon destination is rich in natural wonders and First Nations culture. Located only 177 miles from the Arctic Circle, Tombstone is home to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch, a First Nation whose history in the area can be traced back thousands of years. Everything from hunting blinds to stone tools and, yes, cemeteries, can be found at over 70 protected First Nations ecological and archeological sites within the park.
National Aboriginal Day
National Aboriginal Day is Canada-wide event held annually on the June 21st, the summer solstice. This day is meant to “recognise and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.” Throughout the country, National Aboriginal Day is marked by activities and celebrations, featuring everything from community feasts to traditional games. Connect with the local Aboriginal community and discover how you can participate.