Paddling up mountain-encircled inlets in long canoes, drums keeping time, voices rising and falling; feasting on homemade bannock and roasted bison at a First Nations-run restaurant; spending the night at a hotel featuring fair trade Indigenous art, and a rooftop sweat lodge. Indigenous tourism offers a chance to explore the city through a rich cultural and historical lens.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in Aboriginal tourism," said Paula Amos, manager of regional initiatives and communications at Aboriginal Tourism B.C.
She cites a multitude of local First Nations tourist destinations, including the Bill Reid Art Gallery, restaurant Salmon n' Bannock, cultural and ecotour company Talaysay Tours, canoe and kayak cultural tour company Takaya Tours and Skwachays Lodge, a hotel and Indigenous artists’ residence.
"Our research says that one in four B.C. visitors is looking for an Aboriginal experience," said Amos. People yearn for an "immersive, transformative experience." Aboriginal Tourism B.C. aims to educate visitors and help make developing businesses market ready.
"There is a lot to explore and think about," said Amos, adding that the organization wants to raise locals' awareness of the rich cultural diversity in their own backyard.
Dennis Thomas, business development manager for Takaya Tours, an ecotourism company, described their tours as "a very unique cultural experience."
They offer canoe and kayak expeditions in the waters just off Vancouver; participants learn about Indigenous culture as they paddle up scenic Indian Arm, listening to traditional songs and stories.
For Thomas, the experience of sharing his culture helps him feel more balanced in his urban life, and brings him closer to his roots.