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Travel 5 Unique Ways to Experience Indigenous Culture in Canada

00:01  29 july  2022
00:01  29 july  2022 Source:   cntraveler.com

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Canada is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world—and that diversity existed long before European settlement. Since time immemorial, a wide array of different Indigenous groups survived and thrived in the remarkable landscapes that are now part of the second largest country on the planet. Almost two million Indigenous people live in Canada today and more than 50 different traditional languages are still spoken. Now, after centuries of oppression, the Indigenous Peoples of Canada are reviving their languages and sharing their cultures in unique tourism experiences that are found all across the country. Connecting with these ancient living cultures is an opportunity to see Canada like you never have before, from the perspective of those who know it best.

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Onhoüa Chetek8e Huron Traditional Site in Wendake, Quebec © Indigenous Tourism Canada Onhoüa Chetek8e Huron Traditional Site in Wendake, Quebec

Visit a cultural site in Wendake, Quebec

Whether it’s a museum, a gallery, an interpretive centre, or a reconstructed ancient village, there are nearly as many cultural sites as there are Indigenous cultures in Canada. While each one is unique, they are all designed to share the story of a specific nation or group.

Onhoüa Chetek8e Huron Traditional Site, which has been operating for more than 30 years, is a great place to learn about the history and culture of the Huron-Wendat people. Located just outside Quebec City in Wendake, Quebec, the site features a reconstructed village that shows how the Huron-Wendat people lived in the 16th century prior to European contact. There are reconstructed buildings, costumed interpreters, an Indigenous restaurant called NEK8ARRE that serves traditional vegetables, bannock, smoked meats, fish, and game meats, and a gift shop, as well as demonstrations and hands-on activities that immerse guests in Huron-Wendat culture. “A lot of people only have a Hollywood experience with Indigenous culture,” says Raphael Gaudet, a guide at the site. “Each nation has its own language, culture, and ways of living. Tipis and headdresses were used by some nations, but not by others. The Wendats did not live in tipis, they lived in longhouses.” Guests can go inside a recreated longhouse and get a feel for what everyday life was like for the Huron-Wendat people who lived in such structures.

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Feast Café Bistro serves up hearty comfort food made with traditional ingredients like bison, pickerel, bannock © Indigenous Tourism Canada Feast Café Bistro serves up hearty comfort food made with traditional ingredients like bison, pickerel, bannock

Enjoy an Indigenous culinary experience in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Food is an expression of culture and identity, and Indigenous cuisine is no exception. The Indigenous Peoples of Canada thrived in sometimes harsh conditions by living in balance with nature and respecting all forms of life—taking only what they needed and using all they took. Every part of an animal was used, even horns, hooves, and bones were used to make tools. Indigenous cuisine has always been focused on nose-to-tail cooking and local seasonal ingredients—culinary trends that only reached the mainstream in the last twenty-five years. Many Indigenous chefs fuse contemporary cooking techniques with traditional flavors, lending a unique perspective to Canada’s culinary scene.

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In Winnipeg, Manitoba, Feast Café Bistro was founded in December 2016 by chef-owner Christa Bruneau-Guenther, a member of the Peguis First Nation. It’s not a fine-dining establishment and the restaurant has no formally trained chefs, instead focusing on a mandate to hire people who have had previous barriers to employment; all the chefs are trained on site. The menu features hearty comfort food made with traditional ingredients like bison, pickerel, bannock, berries, nuts, beans, corn, and squash, often spun into contemporary dishes like burgers, pizza, tacos, poutine, soups and salads. Every dish has an Indigenous twist, from the bannock buns on the burgers to the homemade Saskatoon berry vinaigrette served with the salad.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan © Getty Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Explore an Indigenous historical site near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Whether it’s an ancient buffalo jump on the prairies or a site with primitive petroglyphs in Atlantic Canada, there are many significant Indigenous historical sites to experience across Canada. These places have deep meaning to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and in many cases are considered to be sacred. It’s important to be respectful, stay on pathways, and not take stones or artifacts. An Indigenous guide can typically help you better understand what you see at these special places.

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For more than 6000 years, nomadic Indigenous groups came together at what is now known as 4444 near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan—a site of peaceful coexistence and cultural exchange. It is also the location of Canada’s longest running archeological dig and it’s on the tentative list to be considered for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archeological record tells the story of a landscape that is spiritually significant: Visitors today can see an ancient medicine wheel, a buffalo jump, petroglyphs, archeological artifacts, and bison. They can also walk on trails, camp in a tipi, enjoy Indigenous cuisine made with fresh local ingredients at the onsite Wanuskewin Restaurant, and participate in interpretive programs to better understand the culture and history of the Indigenous Peoples that gathered at this place.

Young members of the First Nations during a traditional Pow Wow competition, as part of the Calgary Stampede © Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Young members of the First Nations during a traditional Pow Wow competition, as part of the Calgary Stampede

Attend a special event and a Pow Wow in Calgary, Alberta

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pow Wows and other Indigenous celebrations and ceremonies were banned across the country. Indigenous Peoples could not wear traditional clothing and were confined to reservations by the Indian Act put in place by the Canadian government; an Indigenous person could be arrested and jailed for defying the Indian Act. One notable exception, however, was the Calgary Stampede, which was first established in 1912. Guy Weadick and the prominent local businessmen who established the Calgary Stampede successfully lobbied the federal government to allow Treaty 7 First Nations to be part of “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” First Nations Peoples have been a part of the Calgary Stampede ever since—setting up tipis, selling handicrafts, dancing, and drumming at what is now called the Elbow River Camp.

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Pow Wows and festivals are now celebrated right across the country, but the Calgary Stampede Powwow is still one of the most beloved events by First Nations Peoples and visitors alike. It is also one of Canada’s largest competitive Pow Wows and the best Indigenous dancers and singers from Canada and the United States compete for $175,000 in prize money at the annual event that happens in mid-July.

Aurora Village - Yellowknife, Northwest Territories © Indigenous Tourism Canada Aurora Village - Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Go “aurora hunting” with an Indigenous tour guide in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Indigenous Peoples have a unique way of viewing the world. The Mi'kmaw word “etuaptmumk” means “two-eyed seeing.” One eye focuses on Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, while the other eye sees with the strength of Western knowledge. The Mi’kmaw believe it is only when you learn to use both eyes together that you get an accurate perspective. Experiencing an Indigenous tour is an excellent way to see a destination with an Indigenous eye.

In Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, there are several Indigenous tour operators who can help you see the northern lights, but only one that will take you hunting for the aurora borealis. When Joe Bailey started North Star Adventures in 2007, he decided to offer aurora tours that transport guests to several different locations looking for the best views and the best photo-ops. He calls his tours “aurora hunting” to pay homage to his Indigenous Dene ancestors. “Aurora hunting is kind of like storm chasing,” says Bailey. “It's exciting.” While guests wait for the northern lights to appear, Indigenous guides share Dene legends and stories. Changing locations often improves the chances of seeing the northern lights; if it’s cloudy and the northern lights are obscured or viewing is poor in one location, they move to another site several miles away near a lake, a meadow or perhaps even on a hillside. Instead of waiting for the aurora to come to a stationary site, Bailey and his guides search out the best vantage points for viewing this ethereal marvel of nature.

How to find Indigenous tourism experiences in Canada

Indigenous tourism experiences can be found in every province and territory in Canada. Find a list of recommended Indigenous experiences at destinationindigenous.ca, the official website of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.

Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Canadian-based Métis writer and a national bestselling author. Follow her at www.wanderwoman.ca.

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