ABORIGINAL TOURISM LEADS
Like ceremonial smoke wafting across sacred lands, Aboriginal tourism is quietly evolving throughout Canada’s provinces and territories, and attracting vigourous international tourism efforts into Canada. According to the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada (ATAC) and Destination Canada, this market sector is becoming a powerful and compelling option for foreign travellers, as well as homegrown vacationers, seeking viable opportunities for their dollar.
Tribal interests nationwide are establishing a rich menu of unique activities for even the most travelled clients. First Nations travel and tourism products and services offer lasting memories steeped in the dynamic cultures of the most ancient people of Canada.
Timing is paramount for meaningful success in the volatile tourism industry, and it appears Aboriginal tourism is blessed in this regard, heading for a record year of fortuitous happenings coast-to-coast-tocoast. Following the dramatic Parks Canada discoveries of the long-lost Franklin ships, Erebus and Terror, over the last two years, interest in the North is ever more robust. The 2015 federal election in Canada also reflects a newly-charged national Aboriginal consciousness with the election of ten First Nations Members of Parliament, a first in the history of the country.
The Crossing at Ghost River is an enchanted overnight Aboriginal adventure in the Alberta foothills between Calgary and Banff. Guides lead visitors on a journey spanning notions of time and culture, highlighted by traditional drumming and unique storytelling, walking through captivating landscapes to learn about the healing plants growing underfoot, and watching authentic Aboriginal cuisine being made. Choose to stay in their comfortable lodge for one or two nights, set on 145 picturesque acres, or book your corporate retreat and mix business with pleasure Rockies-style (www.crossingexperience.ca).
Spirit Bear Lodge, in British Columbia’s tiny central coast community of Klemtu, is 150 nautical miles by float plane from Vancouver Island’s northern-most town of Port Hardy. Protected from the Pacific Ocean tumult by the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest on the planet, travellers make the effort to view one of our world’s great natural mysteries—the kermode or “spirit bear.” A visit here also allows you to encounter orca whales, grizzly bears, eagles, ravens and a host of other inhabitants of this remarkable locale (www.spiritbear.com).
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2014, and has already won dozens of awards, including the National Cultural
Tourism Award from the Travel Industry Association of Canada (TIAC). Izzie Asper’s lifelong dream beckons visitors to architect Antoine Predock’s astounding exterior design, modelled after ice, clouds and stone, and set in a field of sweet grass at the legendary Forks of the Red River. Venture indoors where designer Ralph Applebaum’s amazing interactive installations highlight First Nations culture in a mesmerizing journey through time and geography, language and tradition. Don’t miss the “Our Canada, My Story” video presentation celebrating Canada’s 150th Anniversary, the Witness Blanket exhibition or the museum’s on-site boutique where exciting fair trade and handmade mementos celebrating Indigenous culture worldwide can be purchased (www.humanrights.ca).
If your spirit needs renewal, go west to visit Saskatchewan’s Northern Plains People. Body/mind/spirit experiences unfold at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park; witness a buffalo hunt and explore medicine wheel circles to learn about the relationship locals maintain with healing plants, culinary wisdom, and the cycles of the animals (www.wanuskewin.com). February is Aboriginal Storytelling Month, and there is no better place to experience this rich tradition than at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre in Saskatoon (www.sicc.sk.ca).
Follow the ceremonial smoke of hospitality east to Ontario, home to Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater lake island in the world. Indigenous experiences range from soft adventure to wilderness eco-adventures and educational interpretive tours. High on anyone’s list should be the Great Spirit Circle Trail’s cornucopia of packages, such as Medicine Walks, Legends of the Land Riding Trail, Demwe Cycling Tour, or the luxurious Horse and Teepee overnight adventure, which leaves the Honora Bay Riding Stable at noon and returns the day after at 2:00 in the afternoon. Savour the campfire dinner, medicine walk, storytelling and drumming around the fire, as well as swimming with horses and breakfast the next morning (www.circletrail.com).
Also on Manitoulin is the annual Wiikwemikoong Cultural Festival. Eastern North America's oldest competition powwow is running this year from August 5 through 7 on Canada's only officially recognized Unceded Territory. Traditional dancing, hand drumming, authentic Native cuisine and crafts with interactive workshops abound. Plus you can even purchase the new Anishinaabemowin Language App from the Google Play Store, featuring 32 categories in Three Fires Confederacy languages of Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatami. Wikwemikong Tourism hosts several cultural tour packages that showcase the lifestyles and traditions of the Three Fires People. Satisfy your need for culture and outdoor adventure in one of Canada's largest Indigenous territories.
Just outside the UNESCO site of Old Québec City, you may discover what the Huron-Wendake community calls “the history we never told you.” Stay in an authentic Aboriginal 4-star boutique hotel called Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, gracefully built along the banks of the Akiawenrahk (St.Charles River). Inspired from traditional longhouses, units are constructed with natural materials such as
stone, leather and wood. Or invite the whole family to stay in a longhouse, the First Nations symbol of family, hospitality and the legendary welcome of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. This option encourages visitors to experience the myths and legends, to taste the traditional bread (bannock), have a fire keeper tend the embers as well as your dreams throughout the night, plus you’ll have a regular room in the hotel for modern conveniences, and breakfast the next day at La Traite restaurant (www.tourismewendake.ca).
Mi’kmaq powwows on Prince Edward Island’s Lennox Island ignite in late July; the hungry crowds go to the Aboriginal
Food Festival (www.lennoxisland.com). The Indian Art & Craft store makes its home on the peaceful shores of famous Malpeque Bay.
Across this bay in Nova Scotia, elders share stories about creation at the Wagmatcook Culture and Heritage Centre (www.wagmatcook.com). Listen to their ancient tales teaching how to live properly, how animals interact with the elements, and details about powerful ceremonial tools of their society—like the medicine wheel. Less than two hours from Halifax, view petroglyphs created by the Mi’kmaq First Nations People in the 18th and 19th centuries at Kejimkujik National Park, where it is also possible to camp out under the stars (www.parkscanada.gc.ca ).
New Brunswick calls everyone interested in attending powwows to a full seasonal menu of options, from St. Mary’s First Nation Powwow which takes place June 16 to 18 at the Devon Indian Reserve #24, to the Pabineau First Nation Powwow at the new Flying Eagle Memorial Powwow Grounds during the first weekend of July, or the Eel Ground First Nation Powwow in mid-July (www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca).
Newfoundland and Labrador summon outdoor adventurers to their majestic Torngat Mountains Inuit-led Base Camp experience, immersing participants in the culture of this dreamy geography and giving access to stunning wildlife viewing. The highest peaks in Canada east of the Rockies frame a magical mix of fjords, rivers, flood plains, and coastal wilderness. There is no place on the planet like the Torngat Mountains and the Base Camp trek is a classic one-of-a-kind memory for travellers (www.thetorngats.com).
The Yukon’s Whitehorse waterfront is the site for this year’s Adäka Cultural Festival held at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre from June 30 to July 6 (www.kwanlindunculturalcentre.com). This popular event mixes traditional and contemporary musical performers and creative artists from local First Nations tribes, as well as guests from Alaska, Greenland, B.C. and Northwest Territories. The mélange of entertainment, together with unique workshops and handmade crafts—imbued with the infectious Yukon spirit—guarantees visitors memorable fun (www.travelyukon.com).
If Nunavut and the Canadian Arctic are on your bucket list, contact Adventure Canada for access to Canada’s northern passages aboard a cruise ship (www. adventurecanada.com ). Follow whales, seals and narwhals in small Zodiac boats up close, photograph endangered polar bears, or bask in the other-worldliness of the aurora borealis in the comfort of your ship.
CALGARY STAMPEDE PARADE, AB • SHUTTERSTOCK