British Columbia Feature
First Nations Culture
Home to more than 30 First Nations, each with its own language, history, and culture, B.C. has the most varied, and vibrant, range of aboriginal cultures in North America. It's also one of the best places to experience these cultures, whether in a museum, at a cultural center, or while exploring the wilderness with a First Nations guide.
Southern B.C. has several First Nations museums—in Vancouver, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is an exceptional legacy to this famous artist and includes a wide range of aboriginal art. Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology and Victoria's Royal British Columbia Museum each has a renowned collection of First Nations artifacts, from archaeological finds to modern-day works, that represent a cross section of B.C. aboriginal groups.
Another way to experience aboriginal culture is to visit one of the province's cultural centers run by First Nations people. There are several easy day-trip destinations from Vancouver, including the impressive Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (www.slcc.ca) in Whistler and the Xá:ytem (pronounced "HAY-tum") Longhouse Interpretive Centre (www.xaytem.ca), about an hour east of Vancouver. On Vancouver Island, the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre (www.quwutsun.ca) is an hour north of Victoria in the city of Duncan. The riverside site's cedar longhouses include the Riverwalk Café, open June to September, where you can sample traditional First Nations cuisine—perhaps some intriguingly prepared salmon or stew with bannock (unleavened bread). If you're heading east to the Okanagan, you can stop en route in Kamloops at the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park (www.secwepemc.org/museum), a traditional gathering place now home to replica homes and indigenous gardens. Also in the Okanagan, in the town of Osoyoos, is Nk'Mip Spirit of the Desert (www.nkmipdesert.com), a resort complex that includes North America's first aboriginal-owned (and fully operational) winery, as well as the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Further east, in Cranbrook, the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre (www.ktunaxa.org) is housed in St. Eugene Mission, a former residential school.
To experience a powwow, check out Chilliwack's Spirit of the People Pow Wow (www.tourismchilliwack.com): a huge gathering of First Nations groups complete with drumming circles, dancing, traditional foods, and exhibits. Each August, Kamloops hosts the annual Kamloopa Pow Wow (www.tourismkamloops.com), British Columbia's biggest festival of First Nations dance.
Exploring with a First Nations guide
For more of a get-out-and-do-it kind of experience, sign up with a First Nations guide. A growing number of First Nation-owned tourism operators offer everything from kayaking to hiking to jet-boat tours, typically with traditional songs, legends, historic insights, and food (think waterfront salmon barbecues) thrown in. Experiences range from paddling a traditional oceangoing canoe near Vancouver to desert tours around Osoyoos to whale-watching near Tofino.
The Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (www.aboriginalbc.com) has more details about sites, tours, and experiences.
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