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There are approximately 2 million people in Canada who identify as Indigenous, representing about 5 percent of the population. This includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis. While half of this population has moved to the cities, the other half still lives in the 630 First Nations and 50 Inuit communities that exist in Canada.
Each of these tribes and communities is immensely rich in terms of culture, heritage, governance and often even language. However, that does not mean that they are absolutely separate from each other, they often have some commonalities, which include a deep respect for their elders, emphasis on the great importance of their oral traditions and a connection to nature and their land.
Although originally being lost due to the growth of urbanization, indigenous cultures have recently begun to be reclaimed and rejuvenated by the indigenous community in Canada. Canada has recently begun to recognize its rich history along with the systematic discrimination to which indigenous peoples are often subjected. This new process of reconciliation has begun to give birth to a new relationship of mutual respect among Canadians, and tourism plays an important role in this.
Indigenous tourism is a way to support the broader understanding of Indigenous culture. Tourism has opened up new opportunities for communities to actively share their stories with the world and, in the process, reclaim their cultures, languages and history, take pride in who they are and share this with the world.
In the words of Keith Henry, CEO and president of the Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), Canada’s indigenous tourism is an excellent opportunity for tourists to connect with the native people of the land, the people who have known these lands as their home for millennia in a way that is meant to contribute positively to their own community.
Since there are about 1,700 unique indigenous experiences for tourists to choose from, incorporating some of them into your travel itinerary along with other activities will contribute to a great and diverse travel experience.
Many communities are taking advantage of their heritage to develop tourism experiences that help both Canadians and travellers discover more about their heritage, while giving a boost to the local economy.
90 kilometers south of Calgary, one can visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For six thousand years, indigenous people have hunted buffalo (American Bison) by chasing them to a cliff from which they drop them.
Halfway between Vancouver and Calgary lies the Okanagan Valley, an important area for fruit and wine production. It is also a popular year-round destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, sailing, golfing and skiing. In the town of Osoyoos, one can spend the morning amidst exhibitions and displays of dance and drumming at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center, before a leisurely lunch with a wine tasting from Nk’Mip Cellars.
Talaysay Tours offers a Talking Tree Walk through Stanley Park, in Vancouver, where visitors can learn what plants the communities use for cooking and medicine. Visitors will see the nine totem poles of this forest located in the middle of the city. Lunch at Salmon n’ Bannock is a popular destination where the home-cured salmon with crème fraîche is an unforgettable culinary experience.