There’s never been a better time, and more demand, for meaningful interaction with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I’ve previously written about the value and importance of Indigenous-led tourism, and now I want to give you a taste of bucket-list experiences that will tick all your boxes, whether your ideal trip involves fine dining and cultural discovery in a luxe setting, or discovering wild nature on a self-powered adventure. Spanning nature, culture, food, adventure and history, these Indigenous-led activities around the country will leave you inspired, informed, and joyfully connected to both land and people. This is just the beginning.
Note: COVID has done a number on all tourism operators, and some of the services listed below might be running in a limited capacity.
Listen to an Elder
Moses Martin is the elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, a respected Elder who was born and raised in the stunning Clayoquot Sound on western Vancouver Island. Through Clayoquot Wild Tours, he offers a variety of custom fishing and cultural excursions departing from the dock off Main Street in Tofino. Soft-spoken Moses steers us into the serene bay, telling stories that cover thousands of years of local Indigenous history, from warring tribes and mythical legends to residential schools, environmental protests, and the resurgence of Tla-o-qui-aht culture and governance. A combination of personality, history, storytelling and landscape make for an unforgettable excursion.
Discover the Haida
100 per cent owned and operated by the Haida themselves, Haida Tourism offers boutique lodging, luxury cabins, and a beautiful lodge with a variety of Stay and Experience packages. These include Zodiac rides to Louise Island’s K’uuna Skedans village, visits to the studios of local artists and carvers, a Haida-style beach BBQ, wildlife viewing, an interpretive tour of the Golden Spruce Trail, and a floatplane flight to the famous totem poles on Sgang Gwaay.
Track grizzly bears
Located in Desolation Sound and owned by the Klahoose First Nation, the recently reopened Klahoose Wilderness Resort is an intimate launch pad for grizzly encounters, sea kayaking, ocean fishing, nature viewing and local Indigenous culture. Operating spring to fall, the resort is hosted by Indigenous guides who weave in all facets of their culture across various all-inclusive packages.
Hit the bullseye
Surrounded by 32 hectares of wilderness and in view of the Rockies, Painted Warriors Ranch infuses outdoor adventure, personality, culture and nature. Owners Tracey Klettl and Tim Mearns introduce Ojibway, Métis and Cree history and customs through archery (Tracey and Tim are both national champs), snowshoeing, horseback riding, and wildlife tracking. Their three-hour Bimose Stories of the Forest excursion shares traditional knowledge of medicinal plants for healing, hunting and fire-lighting. There’s also four-season glamping on-site to complete your wilderness retreat.
Expand your culinary repertoire
Pei Pei Chei Ow is an Edmonton-based catering company that fuses traditional and western ingredients, and uses Indigenous cooking techniques. Beyond their catered functions, they offer a series of fascinating (and mouth-watering) online cooking classes. Honouring the Whole Animal is a two-hour class of skills, culture and stories with chef Scott Iserhoff, who creates five dishes with all parts of a duck. There’s also a 90-minute class for chicken and/or mushroom on frybread, and an hour-long class on traditional potato pancakes and a fermented berry drink.
Celebrate the Prairies
A $40-million renovation at Wanuskewin Heritage Park makes the centre Saskatchewan’s premier Indigenous attraction, packed with history, wildlife, cuisine, and cross-cultural interaction. Saskatoon also hosts the Métis Cultural Days each summer, a family-friendly event that brings together music, art, stories, games, and traditional food. Elders share stories in both English and Michif, as fiddlers jig on the Kitchen Party outdoor stage. If you’re in Regina, check out the First Nations Gallery inside the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, which explores 10,000-plus years of Indigenous history in the province.
Join a pow wow
Tens of thousands of people attend Winnipeg’s annual Manito Ahbee Festival, which celebrates music, dance, food, crafts and other aspects of First Nations culture. Drummers, dancers and singers compete for six-figure prize money in the one of the continent’s largest competitive pow wows. The festival welcomes both Manitobans and visitors in a celebration that truly brings everyone together. While in Winnipeg, explore fantastic art at the Indigenous-run Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery, or learn about human rights from a First Nations perspective with the Mikinak Keya Tour at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Feel the Great Spirit
In the stories of the people of the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Pottawatomi Nations, Manitoulin Island is so beautiful that the Great Spirit, the Father of Life, kept it for himself. Today, they welcome guests to the largest freshwater lake island in the world with a number of authentic experiences, providing an opportunity to learn about this unique island directly from its people. Depending on the season, hook rainbow trout inside a rented ice hut, discover the island’s rich history at Kana:ta Village, canoe on the Grand River, or hike the 12-kilometre loop of the Bebamikawe Memorial Trail, overlooking the Killarney mountains and beautiful Georgian Bay.
Contemplate the Teaching Rocks
About two and half hours drive from Toronto is the site of the largest concentration of aboriginal rock art in Canada. Petroglyphs Provincial Park is home to nine hundred symbolic carvings of humans, objects, and animals, carved between 600 and 1,100 years ago into a single slab of marble. Protected as a National Historic Site, the “Teaching Rocks” is a sacred site to the Ojibwa people, a timeless recording of their stories and legends. Surrounded by lovely walking trails that cut into the surrounding forest (and visit bright-hued McGinnis Lake), the excellent visitor centre educates visitors about Ojibway history and traditions.
Learn to do things the Innu Way
The Innu are the Indigenous peoples with the oldest proven historical presence in Quebec, dating back about 10,000 years. Located on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the community of Unamen Shipu (also known as La Romaine) proudly welcomes visitors to discover Innu culture. Partake in a bounty of traditional outdoor experiences, from day-long canoe trips, ATV rides and salmon fishing to trapping and ‘holistic spiritual immersion’ wellness packages. Traditional lobster fishing has recently been added to the Innu’s renowned custom fishing excursions.
Immerse yourself in a community
Quebec’s Atikamekw community of Manawan welcomes visitors with a number of stay, play and learn packages throughout the year. Summer excursions include a three-day, two-night visit in which guests are absorbed into the community’s culture and traditions. Stay in a teepee, feast on moose and bannock, canoe to ancient petroglyphs, listen to legends around the fire, and hike under the stars. In spring, you can participate in the traditional Sugar House preparation of maple syrup. Come winter, hit the snowmobile trails. Manawan is accessible by either road or floatplane, and is less than a four-hour drive from Montreal.
Fish on the Miramichi
It’s one of the world’s great fly-fishing rivers, and the people of the Red Bank Nation know how to fish it. Their Red Bank Lodge, a cozy, comfortably-appointed cedar lodge, sits on a high bank overlooking the river, with access to the best salmon pools. The lodge’s two-night Culinary Fishing package features guided fishing, a traditional Mi’kmaq dinner, and interpretive walks into Metepenagiag Heritage Park, a National Historic Site.
Learn stars and crafts
Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site in Maitland Bridge offers a number of fantastic Indigenous experiences. Join a Mi’kmaw Encampment to cultivate a connection with nature, as local interpreters share their unique outdoor skills and knowledge, incorporating thousands of years living on and respecting the land. Learn the ancient art of birch bark canoe building with master Mi’kmaw craftsman and storyteller Todd Labrador, a hands-on experience helping Todd in his workshop followed by a traditional lunch. Parks Canada also offers a Dark Sky Cultural Experience on the starlit shores of Merrymakedge Beach, exploring the myths and legends of the Mi’kmaq.
Prince Edward Island
Create something special
The Lennox Island First Nation hosts a number of fun and hands-on experiences to keep you busy (and well fed) as you explore the history and culture of the Mi’kmaq people. Start with Bannock and Clams in the Sand. Guides prepare both dishes in the traditional manner while sharing stories and the history of the community. Drumming is crucial to the stories and songs of the Mi’kmaq people. Create your own traditional hand drum, learning the songs, technique, and responsibility that accompanies every drum. You can also make your own porcupine quill artwork, or engage with the community while painting, beading, or feasting.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Meet a personality
Indigenous activities in Newfoundland and Labrador are led by memorable personalities. When George Barrett boated me over to the Wonderstrand in Mealy Mountain National Park Reserve, enthusiasm for the region shone through his eyes. Birders will want to seek out Janice Flynn, who tours the Southwest coast of Newfoundland, year-round, in search of local residents and Arctic migrants. Eric Bourgeois’s Everoutdoor Adventures offers custom tours around the Bay of Islands on the west coast of Newfoundland, while Darren Park’s sense of humour (and mussel boil) is a highlight of his Four Seasons Tours. Trina Reid uses her family history to tell the rich history of Bakers Brook near Gros Morne, and Inuit artist Charlene Rumbolt offers various demonstration workshops from her studio in Mary’s Harbour. Wonderful people, fantastic experiences, and just the tip of the iceberg.
Dogsled in Old Crow
Josie’s Old Crow Adventures is owned and operated by Paul Josie, a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow. Paul grew up running sled dogs and helping with his family’s dog team, and together with his wife and kids, welcomes visitors to explore both culture and community. The family business offers northern lights, sled dog and skidoo adventures.
Take on an Epic Trail
The Tagish community of Carcross is widely known for living in the world’s smallest desert. It also boasts world-class biking and hiking trails, built and maintained by local Indigenous youth since 2006. The Mountain Hero Trail follows a century-old mule trail, with 40 kilometres of single-track climaxing atop Montana Mountain, where riders can marvel at the alpine views. As biking meets history, it’s no wonder the International Mountain Bicycling Association allocated Mountain Hero to its Epic Trails category. Ride safe, and brake for wildlife!
Paddle on the Bay
Local Inuit-owned tour company NARWAL Northern Adventures offers a 29-foot voyageur canoe evening tour of Yellowknife Bay. The family-friendly excursion includes a traditional shore dinner, and dinner theatre entertainment. They’ll also take the canoe out to paddle beneath the northern lights. The company offers igloo-building workshops, lessons in traditional Inuit and Dene games, and guided interpretive hikes.
Explore the Mackenzie Delta
Operating out of Inuvik, Inuit-led Tundra North Tours offer true bucket list packages, including a two-territory, five-day excursion that takes in the Dawson Highway, Tuktoyaktuk, and the Arctic Ocean, along with the unusual highlights of Inuvik (that’s one mighty impressive igloo church!). I hopped on a boat with local legend Gerry Kisoun to cruise up the Mackenzie Delta, learning of his childhood hunting, trapping and thriving in the Delta. Tundra North’s Aklavik Boat Tour reveals further tales of the delta, keeping an eye out for wildlife and visiting the grave of the Mad Trapper.
See the Northern Lights
Based out of Yellowknife, a number of Indigenous-led tour operators offer aurora viewing experiences. These include Aurora Village, who offer a full-service aurora experience, BDene Adventures, which incorporates Dene storytelling, drumming and traditional food; and the aptly named Bucket List Tour’s Aurora cabin, which offers a ‘midnight lunch’ of chowder, bannock and champagne.
Motorbike to Tuktoyaktuk
It’s some of the best riding anywhere in the world, but also a long ride just to get there — unless you rent your Dual Sport KLR 650 in Inuvik, and hit the road under the guidance of a knowledgeable local guide. Based out of Inuvik, Lawrence Neyando’s Arctic Motorcycle Adventures ushers riders into the north’s most striking landscapes, including the Dempster Highway and along the new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway. Tours range from guided one-day trips to 10-day, multi-territory expeditions.
Camp on the floe edge under the midnight sun
Nature in the remote high Arctic is a world unto itself. Wait until you get to the floe edge of Admiralty Inlet on northern Baffin Island. Inuit owned and operated Arctic Bay Adventures skidoo their guests to the floe edge, where they spend five nights camping under the midnight sun. Here you can witness migrating beluga whales and walrus, spot narwhal, seals, polar bears and a variety of seabirds. Meals include traditional Inuit fare such as seal meat, Arctic char, and muktaaq (raw whale skin). Although temperatures plummet at night, heated expedition tents ensure everyone is comfortable, enjoying the trip of a lifetime.