A visit to western Canada is not complete without experiencing the local Indigenous cultures on offer. For visitors and locals alike, there are extraordinary experiences to take in around Western Canada. There are three main types of Indigenous attractions: cultural centers, museums, and heritage sites.
Cultural centers are educational in nature and typically feature local ambassadors who share their language and culture with visitors. Listening to stories from Indigenous speakers and trying out your skills at drum making are typical features.
Museums exhibit cultural artifacts but can offer immersive experiences as well. Here you can see headdresses, artwork and other regalia of local Indigenous people.
Heritage sites are places of significance to local Indigenous people and are shared with the public. Fishing and hunting sites and historic villages that you can see and touch and sometimes stay overnight in are highlights here.
Top Indigenous Attractions of Western Canada
U’Mistsa Cultural Centre
This cultural center is in Alert Bay, a small island just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, near the town of Port McNeill. The center is run by the U’mista Cultural Society, whose mandate is to ensure the survival of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples’ cultural heritage. You can learn about the ‘potlatch,’ which was banned in Canada for many years at the centre. During this time, their artwork and other crafts were confiscated. Luckily, the center has been successful at repatriating much of the stolen artwork from around the world, and this exceptional collection is open to the public.
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
Offering both temporary and permanent exhibitions that showcase the cultural history of the Squamish and Lil’wat peoples, this cultural center is a great venue to experience Indigenous culture just outside of Vancouver. On-site is an excellent Indigenous café to experience their culinary delights. Guided tours by cultural ambassadors are also available. On tours, you are welcomed with songs, films, and craftworks. The current exhibition is Boarder X, featuring unique contemporary art from Indigenous artists who surf, skate and snowboard.
Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre
As the name suggests, The Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre is located in western Canada’s only desert region. Just outside the town of Osoyoos, the Nk’Mip centre is set up primarily for self-exploration. In the summer, however, there are interpretive guides on hand to give tours of the area. However, at other times of the year, you are free to explore the centre and surrounding land on your own. There are multi-sensory theatres showcasing the legend of the coyote (Sen’klip) and indoor and outdoor nature exhibits. Take a walking trail from the centre to a traditional village with a pit house and sweat lodge, and be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes along your path!
Photo Credit: Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre / Blake Jorgensen
Located in northern BC, about 2 hours north of Terrace, the Nisga’a Museum focuses on a collection of carved masks, bentwood boxes, headdresses and other arts and crafts from the Nisga’a peoples. These cultural artifacts were stolen in the 19th and 20th Centuries and have only recently been repatriated to their rightful place of origin. This collection is known as the Ancestor’s Collection and is a permanent part of the museum.
Museum of Anthropology
Located in Vancouver, on the traditional land of the Musqueam people, the Museum of Anthropology has multiple permanent and temporary exhibitions focused on Indigenous peoples and other cultures. Permanent Indigenous exhibitions can be found here, such as the Great Hall, showcasing sculptures, bentwood boxes and canoes from the Northwest Coast, and the Bill Reid Rotunda, which houses the most extensive collection of works by world-famous Haida artist Bill Reid.
Buffalo Nations Museum (Banff)
Located in the town of Banff, this museum displays the cultures, traditions, and values of the Indigenous peoples of North America. You’ll find displays of Indigenous arts, such as hunting tools, quillwork and teepees.
Photo Credit: Nisga’a Museum / Mike Seehagel
Xatsull Heritage Village
Located near Williams Lake, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of BC, the Xatsull Heritage Village offers visitors craft workshops, a visit to a sweat house, accommodation in a kikule (pit house) or teepees. A strong focus is put on the relationship of the Xatsull community, part of the Secwepemc Nation, with the nearby Fraser River.
Located near the small town of Boston Bar, BC, on the traditional lands of the Nlaka’pamux territory, the village was created to preserve the culture of the local peoples as it was before Europeans arrived. The village offers superb views from its location in the Fraser Canyon and a longhouse, restaurant with excellent Indigenous cuisine, cultural classes, and a traditional teepee campground for overnight guests.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Near Fort Macleod, Alberta, this interpretive center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the Blackfoot Tribe. At the centre, you’ll learn about the culture and history of the area and the mechanics of the “buffalo jump.” Self-guided and guided walks are available for the area. These are also educational programs to learn about life living in a teepee and how the Blackfoot lived harmoniously with the land and hunted the wild buffalo.
Photo Credit: Blake Jorgenson
After reading this list of popular indigenous attractions, we hope you’ll be excited to explore Western Canada and experience and learn about these great cultures that have called this area home for many thousands of years! What do you think of our highlights of indigenous attractions? Are there any others that you think we should include here next time?