Indigenous tourism plays crucial role in promoting Island’s 50 First Nations

First Nations communities on Vancouver Island offer rich cultural experiences that tell the story of these lands
web1_copy_201228-wct-indigenousdining-food_4
Dining at the Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy. (Indigenous Tourism BC/Kimberley Kufaas)

Indigenous tourism on Vancouver Island plays a crucial role in preserving and promoting the diverse cultures and traditions of the region’s 50 First Nations communities.

Through guided tours, cultural workshops, and interactive experiences, visitors gain insights into the profound connection between the land and the Indigenous communities which have inhabited it for generations. This engagement fosters a deeper understanding of the importance of cultural preservation and instils a sense of respect for the traditions that shape the identity of Vancouver Island. It also contributes to the ongoing process of reconciliation with the three tribal regions.

Whether an Island visitor or a local, here are some noteworthy highlights of Indigenous tourism for you to explore on Vancouver Island, including in adventure tourism, accommodations and the arts. For even more ideas, please visit indigenousbc.com.

This article is from Black Press’ travel magazine Island Visitor.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-indigenoustourism_2
Artist Gordon Dick stands in front of Ahtsik Native Art Gallery. (Melissa Renwick)

Land-Based and Adventure Tourism:

Aboriginal Journeys (Campbell River) offers awe-inspiring Whale Watching, Marine Wildlife Viewing and Adventure Tours, running April 1 to Oct. 30. Every day aboard their 27-foot covered high-speed tour boat (with open viewing deck and onboard washroom) is a new adventure with the potential to see orcas, humpback whales, dolphins, black bears, seals and more.

Also in Campbell River, Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours take guests through the Salish Sea to Bute Inlet and along the Orford River – where grizzly bear populations thrive during the salmon run – all while interweaving knowledge from the traditional way of life. Tours led by Indigenous guides highlight the ecological significance of the region while emphasizing the Indigenous perspective on sustainable resource management and conservation.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-orcas_1
Orcas as seen on an Aboriginal Journeys tour. (Courtesy Aboriginal Journeys)

Accommodations:

Indigenous lodges on Vancouver Island are designed to reflect the traditions and values of the local Indigenous communities while offering visitors a home base from which they can explore the Island in a whole new way. Here are some standouts.

Knight Inlet Lodge (Mid Island, Black Creek): This Indigenous-owned fly-in floating lodge offers an immersive wildlife experience that’s hard to beat. In the heart of pristine nature, visitors can spend the day viewing grizzly bears and other wildlife through the lodge’s tour packages. By night, they can rest easy in the lodge’s accommodations and enjoy on-site dining specializing in fresh seafood.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-llodge_1
Knight Inlet Lodge is owned by five partner First Nations. (Courtesy Knight Inlet Lodge)

Kwa’lilas Hotel (N. Island, Port Hardy): A shining example of a four-star modern hotel that embraces Indigenous culture through Indigenous artwork, wildlife tours and Indigenous-inspired cuisine. Its name comes from the Kwakwala word meaning a place to sleep, chosen by Elders in hopes that travellers would find a peaceful rest after exploring all that Northern Vancouver Island has to offer. The hotel was built by its very own k’awat’si Construction company and makes extensive use of local cedar, resembling the traditional big house style with a smoke hole at the top of the building.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-hotel_1
Kwa’lilas Hotel. (Courtesy Kwa’lilas Hotel)

Himwitsa Lodge (W. Island, Tofino): Primely located in B.C.’s surfing town, this lodge is just steps away from awe-inspiring wildlife, with surfing, scenic hikes and ocean adventures close at hand. What also sets it apart is the Indigenous art gallery that celebrates the work of esteemed local artists, plus a fish store where visitors can get the freshest catches. Since 1991, it’s been a destination from which to celebrate the beauty of the natural world and local Indigenous culture.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-h_1
House of Himwitsa, located in Tofino. (House of Himwitsa)

For those seeking a more rustic experience, Vancouver Island also offers many Indigenous-owned and operated camping sites, allowing visitors to connect with nature while learning more from the area’s Indigenous stewards.

Pachena Bay Campground (S. Island, Bamfield): Operated by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, this highly-rated site provides a camping experience along a magnificent, 1200-meter-long stretch of natural sand beach. It’s close to the West Coast Trail with opportunities for hiking, whale watching, paddling and diving.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-pachena_1
Pachena Bay Campground. (Courtesy Pachena Bay Campground)

Saysutshun, Newcastle Island (E. Island, Nanaimo): Only accessible by a walk-on ferry, this pristine family-friendly park offers a unique oceanside camping experience with full amenities available, including a concession stand. Enjoy nature with kayak rentals, hiking trails and tidal pools with views of the Coastal Mountains. The Saysutshun Interpretive Walking Tour begins at the Totem Pole near the ferry dock and goes to sacred village sites.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-indigenoustourism_2
Some of the views on Saysutshun, Newcastle Island. (Rebecca Duerksen/Samantha Duerksen)

Cultural Experiences:

Artisan markets and galleries showcase Indigenous artworks, such as intricate carvings, paintings, and jewellery, providing an avenue for economic empowerment within communities.

In Victoria, there are several galleries downtown, such as the Eagle Feather Gallery and the Mark Loria Gallery, that feature and celebrate rotating exhibits of Indigenous art.

Mid-Island, the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery (Port Alberni) is an artist-owned fine art gallery specializing in traditional West Coast-style art of the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 2008 by master carver Gordon Dick, the gallery was designed to feature the richness and diversity of culture among Vancouver Island’s Indigenous populations. Ahtsik is a Nuu-chah-nulth word meaning creating to the best of your abilities.

web1_240104-visitor-indigenoustourism-indigenoustourism_1
Ahtsik Native Art Gallery & Gordon Dick Studio in Port Alberni. (Melissa Renwick)

Up north, Culture Shock Interactive Gallery (Alert Bay) offers interactive First Nations cultural experiences, including cedar weaving, traditional salmon barbeque, storytelling and traditional ocean-going canoe tours, plus a retail shop.

There you have it. Of course, these are just a few examples and there is so much more to explore. For more information and ideas, go to indigenousbc.com. What are some of your favourite Indigenous tourism experiences on Vancouver Island? Write to us at [email protected].



Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
Read more