The Haida. The Tsimshian. The Nuu-chah-nulth. The Stó:lō. The Ktunaxa. These are just some of the 203 Indigenous communities of British Columbia, some of which have inhabited the region for thousands of years.
The province is home to the highest diversity of Indigenous societies in Canada, each with its own language, traditions and history. Indigenous cultures are increasingly accessible to visitors, with growth in everything from Indigenous-owned art galleries and cultural centers, to Indigenous-operated wilderness treks, wildlife viewing tours and cultural experiences.
If you want to really connect with the origins of British Columbia during your stay, we’ve gathered some of the most interesting Indigenous experiences in the province.
Cultural experiences and destinations
One of the most popular ways to learn about the First Nations’ way of life is to visit one of BC's many heritage parks and villages. These centers allow you to experience, and possibly participate in, the traditions and cultures of the local Indigenous groups that run them.
- Visit the fishing grounds of the St'at'imc people with Xwisten Experience Tours in Lillooet to witness the harvesting and preserving of salmon. Explore the fishing grounds, see a demonstration of the wind-dried method of preservation, sample the wind-dried fish, and enjoy a salmon BBQ. You can also tour an archaeological village site and see a replica underground pit house.
- The Secwepemc Museum & Heritage Park in Kamloops is a reconstructed village at a traditional gathering place. The 12-acre site is home to a replica winter pit house village, a summer lodge, gardens showing plants used by the Secwepemc, a wildlife marsh and a museum. Each BC Day long weekend, at the beginning of August, Kamloops also hosts the annual Kamloopa Powwow, BC’s biggest festival of First Nations dance.
- In Northern BC lies the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum, a re-created Gitxsan village. Seven longhouses, the first of which was built in 1959, replicate a community that stood on the same riverside site for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years.
Museums and galleries
Archeological finds, totem poles, jewelry and carvings are just some of what you’ll find in BC's world-leading Indigenous museums and galleries.
- The Museum of Anthropology (MOA), at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, contains one of the finest displays of First Nations art in the world. Located on ancestral Musqueam land, the museum strives to showcase the incredible culture and traditions of these First Nations hosts. Their artwork is the first thing to greet you as you walk through the front doors, and as you enter the Great Hall, you’ll be awed by massive, intricate totem poles. Over 10,000 culturally significant objects from around the world are on display in the museum’s galleries, and temporary exhibits help bring fresh perspectives to the rich permanent collection.
- The Bill Reid Gallery, also located in Vancouver, showcases the works of the acclaimed Haida master sculptor, carver, goldsmith, writer and spokesman. The gallery also hosts traveling exhibits and permanent works from other Indigenous artists. On a typical visit, you’ll stumble onto stunning gold and silver jewelry, large sculptures and a towering totem pole by Haida Gwaii artist James Hart. Don’t leave without picking up an Indigenous work of art to bring home from the gallery shop.
- Leaving Vancouver behind for Prince Rupert, the Museum of Northern British Columbia is home to artifacts reflecting thousands of years of First Nations settlement of the area. Set in a Northwest Coast longhouse overlooking the harbor, the museum has earned international acclaim for the quality of its collection. Spend your time in the Hall of Nations, appreciating the distinctive art, ceremonial objects and regalia of each Northwest Coast First Nation.
Other excellent collections can be found at The Royal BC Museum in Victoria, the Haida Heritage Centre and the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Tradition meets modern living
One of the best ways to get to know a person, or an entire culture, is over a meal. Several BC resorts are owned and operated by First Nations people and offer a taste of Indigenous food, culture, entertainment alongside modern accommodations. These include Tsa-Kwa-Luten, and oceanfront resort on Quadra Island, the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino in Cranbrook, and the Quaaout Lodge & Spa.
You can also visit North America’s first Indigenous-owned-and-operated winery, the Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos. The cellars are part of the larger NK’MIP Resort, which includes vineyards, a cultural center, a spa, and a golf course.
A growing number of Indigenous-owned tourism operators are also encouraging visitors to enjoy BC's wilderness, wildlife, culture, and history from a First Nations point of view. Experiences range from paddling a traditional ocean-going canoe to seeking out the mysterious Kermode (Spirit) bear in the Great Bear Rainforest, from watching a dance performance to joining a generations-old purification ceremony.
Book a wildlife viewing excursion with Sea Wolf Adventures in Port McNeill and head to Broughton Archipelago and the Great Bear Rainforest in search of grizzlies. Along the way, you’ll learn about the culture and heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. In nearby Bute Inlet, Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours teach guests about the cultural and historical significance of the Homalco’s traditional territory on a bear-watching, marine wildlife, or cultural tour.
For more on First Nations experiences, visit the Indigenous Tourism Association of British Columbia’s website.