Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, Whistler, British Columbia | Logan Swayze
by Robin Esrock
Canada is experiencing a great reckoning with the actions and consequences of its colonial past as we tread the long and bumpy path of truth and reconciliation. The simple act of making a Land Acknowledgement recognizes the Indigenous protocol of expressing gratitude to those who have stewarded the land for millennia. Great Canadian Trails honours all First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and their valuable past and present contributions to this land. GCT believes learning about customs, stories, and traditions enriches all travel experiences. Below is a round-up of some Indigenous experiences you can look forward to on your next adventures.
B.C. has more than two hundred distinct First Nations, each adhering to its own traditions and history. Over thirty different First Nation languages and nearly sixty dialects are spoken in the province. On the Vancouver to Whistler Cultural Hiking Journey, guests will spend the night at Skwachàys Lodge in Vancouver, the country’s first Aboriginal arts and culture hotel. For visits to the world-famous Stanley Park, you’ll be led by a local First Nations guide who shares the fascinating stories and history of the seas, forests, shores, and mountains.
Hiking the West Coast Trail takes you into the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations. You’ll encounter their community and traditions at various points along the trek. Spot the relics of longhouses among the trees in the Tsuquadra area, where over six hundred Ditidaht warriors once guarded the entrance of Nitinaht Lake. Today, West Coast Trail Guardians – comprised of a half dozen individuals from each nation – help maintain the trail while sharing their culture with hikers they encounter along the way.
Side Note: If you’re an international traveller flying out of Vancouver International Airport, check out Salmon n’ Bannock On the Fly, the airport version of the city’s only Indigenous-owned restaurant, serving fresh, sustainable, and delicious Indigenous cuisine.
Partnering with Can Geo Adventures, Great Canadian Trails’ Canadian Badlands and the Rocky Mountains itinerary is a 9-day discovery of spectacular regions of Alberta. Accompanied by renowned storm chaser and TV personality George Kourounis, tick off some of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies among the peaks, gemstone lakes, fossil beds and glaciers. A highlight is a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves and interprets over six thousand years of Blackfoot culture. Located where the prairies meet the foothills of the Rockies, the buffalo jump is a three hundred metres wide, ten-metre-high sandstone cliff where the Blackfoot would funnel herds of roaming bison. Young warriors dressed in coyotes or wolf furs directed the stampede off the cliff. Warriors would kill injured bison at the base of the cliff, where they would be harvested for meat, fur, and bone tools. European contact severely impacted both the plains people and free-roaming bison, which were hunted almost to extinction. Today, a museum and interpretive centre recall and celebrate the ecology, traditions and lifestyle of the people of the plains.
Atlantic Canada is home to the Mi’kmaq Nation, the original inhabitants of an area that stretched right across the Maritime provinces and along the shores of the St Lawrence River. Their history and traditions are over ten thousand years old, based on seasonal migrations that harvested plant and animal life from sea and shore. In New Brunswick, Go with the Tides, Acadian Coast & Bay of Fundy Isles itinerary introduces you to both historical and modern Mi’kmaq traditions in the company of a knowledge keeper at the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre. In partnership with Can Geo Adventures and accompanied by renowned Canadian Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Jill Heinerth, this unique itinerary takes guests on a Heritage Path walking tour through the maritime forest. Later, you’ll visit one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in New Brunswick, Metepenagiag Heritage Park. Here, you’ll listen to stories from Mi’kmaq elders and end the day with a delicious, traditional feast.
Prince Edward Island
The Mi’kmaq also called Prince Edward Island home, referring to the picturesque island as Epekwitk, which translates as ‘lying on the water.’ On PEI Stories and Culinary Delights by Bike itinerary (part of the Great Canadian Trails Can Geo Adventures collection), you’ll experience Mi’kmaq arts and culture in their traditional home of lovely Lennox Island. This 540-hectare island is located in Malpeque Bay off the PEI’s northwest coast and is home to about 450 First Nation band members. Connected by a causeway and bridge, the community warmly introduces visitors to Mi’kmaq traditions, culinary delights, rich storytelling and colourful artwork.
The vast expanse of the Yukon Territory, an area about the size of Spain and three times larger than England, is home to fourteen First Nations and eight distinct language groups. About a quarter of the territory’s total population is Indigenous. In the Footsteps of Yukon’s Explorer Can Geo Adventure is a ten-day itinerary steeped in spectacular mountain ranges, the history of the Klondike Gold Rush, and the territory’s Indigenous people. Dawson City is the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (literally, the People of the Klondike), who own over one thousand square kilometres of land and form an integral part of the community. Guests will learn of their special connection to the landscape, which will be on full display when hiking in spectacular Tombstone Territorial Park, a pristine 2200 square kilometre wilderness established by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in land treaty in 1998. Tombstone, which has been called Canada’s Patagonia, is jointly managed by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the government of Yukon.
Great Canadian Trails is looking into the evergrowing authentic Indigenous experiences to add to its diverse itineraries, stay tuned.
Robin Esrock is the bestselling author of The Great Canadian Bucket List