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How To Support Indigenous Communities While Traveling in Canada

It’s our responsibility to give back to and learn about the original caretakers of the land.
Hi, I'm Diane!

Based in Vancouver, B.C., Diane Selkirk enjoys writing stories where science, history, or social justice intersect with travel. Her work has appeared in BBC Travel, National Geographic Travel, and The Globe and Mail.

Even though totem poles and powwow dances have long been central to Canada’s tourism image, visitors haven’t always known how to support Indigenous people … or even where to access authentic Indigenous tourism experiences. This is because—until the past decade or so—there just weren’t that many Indigenous-led tourism opportunities out there, as hundreds of years of colonization have disrupted and nearly destroyed the Indigenous cultures that long predated Canada.

But, in recent years, Indigenous healing and the reclamation of traditions have combined and grown into a cultural renaissance. Indigenous communities are now opening up their land and sharing their traditions with visitors, offering experiences that provide the kind of connection and authenticity many are looking for.

And finding and accessing them is easier than you might think. Keith Henry, the president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada says the key is making sure your experience is Indigenous-led. “Booking actual Indigenous-owned tourism experiences will ensure an authentic and positive experience,” he says.

Here are some more tips for supporting Indigenous communities while traveling in Canada.

An Indigenous dancer performs at the Ottawa Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival in an intricate outfit.
An Indigenous dancer performs at the Ottawa Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival.Bildquelle: Bing Wen / Shutterstock

Seek out Indigenous cultural centers

Learn about Indigenous cultures from Indigenous peoples.

It makes sense that Indigenous stories should be told by Indigenous people. But for the past 150 years, Henry says most of us have learned about Indigenous people from colonial-style museums or Hollywood movies. “Far too often we have been fed stereotypes which are often inaccurate and don’t represent the diverse Indigenous Nations throughout Canada,” says Henry.

One way to gain a better understanding of how diverse Indigenous Peoples are is to visit an Indigenous cultural center. You’ll find small and large cultural centers in Indigenous communities across the country—and each tells a unique story. Many also offer guided tours as well as hands-on training in traditional crafts or plant medicine.

Where to go

  • Squamish Lil'wat Culture Centre in Whistler, British Columbia: This center offers insight into the ancient mythology, art, and cuisine of these coastal nations.

  • Metis Crossing, close to Edmonton, Alberta: Here, you can learn more about the Metis People, a distinct Nation which grew out of the union between European fur traders and their First Nations counterparts.

  • Huron-Wendat Museum in Wendake, Quebec: See the historic treasures of the Wendat People and have a chance to spend time in a traditional longhouse.

A sunny day outside the glassy exterior of the Squamish Lil'wat Culture Centre in Whistler, BC.
The Squamish Lil'wat Culture Centre in Whistler, British Columbia.Bildquelle: Ric Jacyno / Shutterstock

Choose Indigenous-owned options

Put your money where your mouth is.

Contributing to a community’s economic success can be as simple as opting to support a small Indigenous-owned enterprise over a larger corporate one. “We want visitors to travel and leave benefits behind to our Indigenous-owned and operated businesses,” says Henry.

And with around 630 First Nation communities—representing 50+ Nations and Indigenous languages—as well as Metis and Inuit Nations, you’ll find a diverse range of Indigenous tourism experiences in Canada. So whether you’re looking for a campsite, hotel, fishing guide, or winery, there’s probably an Indigenous-owned business that can meet your needs.

Where to go

  • Near Tadoussac, Quebec, the Innu people of Essipit offer whale watching and camping on the banks of the St. Lawrence River.
  • Wine lovers will want to check out Nk'Mip Cellars in Osoyoos, British Columbia, where Justin Hall became North America’s first Indigenous wine maker.
  • Anglers can try their hand fishing for trout in the waters surrounding Manitoulin Island, Ontario, with Wasse-Giizhik Tours, or have a go at landing a huge prehistoric sturgeon with Great River Fishing Adventures in Chilliwack, British Columbia.
  • Those looking for luxury dining and lodging should head to Haida House in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.
  • For small-group training in traditional skills—from Ojibway, Cree, and Mohawk guides—visit Painted Warrior Ranch in Mountain View County, Alberta.
  • Enjoy multimedia experiences that combine ancient stories with state-of-the-art technology like Onhwa' Lumina, an illuminated night walk in Quebec City.
A carved boat on Haida Gwaii in the Pacific Ocean in Canada/
Haida Gwaii isn British Columbia, Canada.Bildquelle: Linda Szeto / Shutterstock

Take part in reconciliation tourism

Emotionally intense, but necessary.

The effects of colonization mean that much of what we’ve learned about Traditional Peoples needs to be relearned through a different lens. In Canada this means not shying away from the hard truths about the brutalities Indigenous People were exposed to, including illness, forced relocation, and residential schools.

While this can sound like a heavy theme for a tourism experience, options such as Wikwemikong Tourism on Manitoulin Island, Ontario; Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park in Kamloops, British Columbia; and Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario don’t stop their stories and teaching at contact with European cultures; instead, they guide you through what came next.

They also encourage you to ask questions and confront your own misconceptions. “We want visitors to feel they can ask questions and have a meaningful cultural experience and exchange. The more non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities learn together, the better future we will have,” says Henry.

Respect sacred moments

Take the lead from Indigenous peoples.

One of the joys of Indigenous tourism is that guests are often welcomed into traditional ceremonial moments at powwows, potlatches, and when out on the land. Because the cultures are being lived in real-time and not performed for tourists, it’s important to follow guidance and be as respectful as possible.

Generally there will be places and moments that are too private or sacred for visitors to partake in, and you’ll be guided to a different location. At other times, a ceremony—such as a smudge or an offering—shouldn’t be photographed (though you may be invited to partake). For the most part your hosts will advise you, but if you’re ever in doubt, put away the camera until you’re sure it’s welcome.

An Indigenous shawl dancer performs at a powwow in Ontario on a sunny day.
A shawl dancer at an educational powwow in Ontario, Canada.Bildquelle: Fiona M. Donnelly / Shutterstock

Buy authentic Indigenous arts and crafts

Be smart about where you spend your money.

Chances are, after experiencing the land and cultures of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, you’ll want to pick up a memento. Indigenous art in Canada is world renowned—it ranges from the bold formline carvings and paintings of British Columbia’s west coast, to the intricate beadwork of the central plains, to the leather and fur moccasins and clothing found in the east, to the minimalist carvings and colorful paintings of the north.

It’s also an art form that’s poorly protected and often fraudulently replicated. Here are some things to keep in mind before purchasing:

  • Buy directly from the artist when you’re in their community. Otherwise, be sure to shop in Indigenous-owned galleries and gift shops like those found at cultural centers and museums.
  • When looking at a piece, you’ll want to be sure it’s signed by the artist and that there’s an artist biography available—this is true even for art reproduced on things such as t-shirts and dishtowels.
  • Steer clear of items that are “Indigenous inspired” or pieces that don’t have any indication about who the artist is or where they’re from.

Go into the experience with an open heart

Simple, but effective.

Our last tip is perhaps the most straightforward of all. Indigenous people are natural hosts and take great joy and pride in sharing their culture and land. They’ve lived on the land we now call Canada since time immemorial—and have a lot to teach us.

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