This post was originally published in English on the Manitoba Hot website.
A trip to the North offers more than just wild outdoor adventures and culinary delights. The people and the land are intrinsically linked, and the region provides numerous opportunities to get a glimpse into the Indigenous cultures that call Manitoba’s north home.
One-of-a-kind gifts and works of art are within reach, thanks to the talented Indigenous artists who set up shop in northern Manitoba. Jasyn Lucas, member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, is a well-known wildlife and landscape artist who recently moved into a permanent space in Thompson with his partner Nikki Brightnose. The Gift of Art serves as both an art gallery and a tattoo parlor for the creative pair, displaying works of art by Jasyn as well as pieces collected from travels abroad. The gallery is open to the public by appointment.
For a more traditional gallery, head southwest to the Northern Buffalo Art Gallery in Cranberry-Portage. Home to the work of local Irvin Head, the gallery space is a hidden gem for soap stone and wood carvings and frequently features guest artists.
The Itsanitaq Museum in Churchill, Manitoba has long been revered by visitors, boasting one of the finest collections of Inuit artifacts. The artifacts and carvings housed in the museum are some of the world’s oldest, tracing the history of the Pre-Dorset, Dorset, and Inuit peoples and dating back to 1700 B.C. As an added bonus, the museum gift shop is rich with Northern books, Canadian Inuit art, and local carvings, prints, beaded mitts, moccasins, mukluks, parkas, and stone cut prints.
The Sam Waller Museum in the Pas is undoubtedly one of the most unique museums in the province – with curiosities and collectibles displayed alongside the rich history of the north. The museum’s exhibits cover geological formations of the region, First Nations history, the fur trade, and Métis history. Following a similar vein, the Heritage North Museum in Thompson combines Indigenous traditions with mining history and nature exhibits to create a well-rounded museum on Manitoba’s north. The museum excels in Indigenous artifacts (including an authentic caribou hide tipi).
Plan your trip around a lively festival to get a real taste for Northern community and culture. Summer is bursting with festivals that bring together traditional Indigenous ceremony with the spirit of the north. The Thompson National Aboriginal Day Celebrations take place at the end of June and promote cultural understanding and Aboriginal pride. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in and witness traditional ceremonies such as the Sunrise ceremony (a traditional ceremony to welcome the day) and gain new understanding with teachings taking place within the Tipi. Moving into July, Cross Lake holds its annual Treaty and Indian Days, featuring York boat races, canoe races and yes – even a voyageur race. The Fox Lake Cultural Festival in Gillam features traditional pow wows, cultural workshops and live performances.
The fun continues in August with two of the largest festivals held in Indigenous communities. The Opaskwayak Indian Days are held every third week of August and focus on Cree traditions and cultures, with competitive events such as the Canoe Classic, the Indian Princess Pageant, and Traditional Events. Norway House is home to the last big festival of the summer, the Treaty & York Boat Days. The week-long celebration features the World Championship York Boat Race and aims to honor the Cree, Metis, and European settlers that formed the community..
In true Manitoba fashion, the festivals only continue as the temperatures drop. Manitoba’s oldest festival, the Northern Manitoba Trappers’ Festival, focuses on the diverse cultural heritage of the Northern Pioneer, while offering a glimpse into Aboriginal cultures with an annual jigging competition. The Cross Lake Annual Winter Festival (February) is a week-long celebration with a mix of tradition and non-traditional events. Participants can dance along to jigging performances, try their hand at bannock making or watch a snowshoe race. The Thompson Winterfest (February) takes place around the same time and also features a jigging contest and plenty of winter activities. The Churchill Aurora Winterfest (March) marks the end of the Hudson Bay Quest and features Indigenous drumming, square dancing, snow sculpting and igloo building.