May 14, 2018 12:01 pm
Updated: May 14, 2018 2:28 pm

Visit B.C.’s Interior for an authentic Indigenous experience

Visiting the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, B.C.

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When non-Indigenous people think of First Nations culture in British Columbia, coastal culture likely comes to mind. While that’s a great starting point, there’s so much more to explore. The province is home to more than 200 diverse nations, each with their own distinct histories, stories and cultural practices.  “The Interior First Nations culture is so different from the coastal culture. Each place has its own significance and its own uniqueness,” says Greg Hopf, the Indigenous tourism specialist at Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association. “People can experience our winter pit homes, our pictograph sites, our legends, our ceremonies. You’re going to have a totally different experience in the Interior and it’s only a three-hour drive from the coast.”

Not only does Indigenous tourism offer authentic cultural experiences, it also promotes education, understanding and reconciliation.

First Nations pit house at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Osoyoos.

“People are looking for that transformational experience,” says Paula Amos, director, partnerships & corporate initiatives for Indigenous Tourism BC. “Wherever you go, you’re going to learn about the deeper history of the province and the connection to the land and the people.”

 

“We’re using tourism to tell our story our way—the real way, the honest way, the authentic way,” Hopf adds. “As we’re sharing our history, we’re educating the rest of the world.”

 

Here are four communities in the Interior to visit for that transformational experience you’ve been looking for.

 

Kamloops

At the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, you can explore the remains of a 2,000-year-old winter village complete with a reconstructed pit house along the bank of South Thompson River. The site also hosts one of the largest First Nations celebrations in Western Canada: the annual Kamloopa Powwow, which takes place on the August long weekend. For a traditional meal with a twist, a visit to Painted Pony Cafe is in order. The eatery features classics like elk stew and cedar-plank salmon as well as contemporary creations like bannock dogs and Indian tacos.

 

Just outside of Kamloops, in Chase, the Quaaout Lodge and Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort offers a range of cultural activities for visitors, including storytelling in a pit house, or kekuli, and canoeing on Little Shuswap Lake. Late-summer and early-fall visitors can also experience the awe-inspiring sockeye run in the nearby Adams River and the Salute to the Sockeye Festival, which holds much importance for local Indigenous people.

Sockeye salmon in Adams River near Shuswap Lake.

Osoyoos

The Osoyoos Indian Band’s spirit of generosity is exemplified in the experiences they offer visitors. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre immerses guests in the history of the region through interactive displays, authentic storytelling and replicas of iconic architectural structures—a teepee, pit house and sweat lodge. Swiws Spirit Tours deepens that learning by taking visitors on cultural tours, such as a six-hour hiking adventure to nʕaylintn, formerly known as McIntyre Bluff, which is rich in First Nations history. At the end of the day, you can relax and reflect at Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, and then retreat to the Spirit Ridge, which offers Indigenous-inspired accommodations.

First Nations pit house at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Osoyoos.

Westbank, Kelowna

The Sncewips Heritage Museum brings together the art and artifacts of the Sqilxw (Okanagan) people. In addition to an impressive collection, the museum offers customized tours of the land and the community by donation. Foodies can also get their fix of Indigenous food at the Kekuli Cafe, which serves up a creative assortment of bannock dishes, including cinnamon sugar and Saskatoon berry for those with a sweet tooth and wild smoked salmon for the traditionalists. The Indigenous World Winery also offers First Nations-inspired cuisine at its Red Fox Club and hosts special dining events in a teepee.

 

Cranbrook

Farther east in the Kootenay region, an immersive experience awaits at St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino. Speaking Earth invites visitors to truly experience the Ktunaxa Nation culture through two days of entertainment and enlightenment at St. Eugene. Guests will participate in cultural activities—including beading, playing traditional games and scraping hides—and visit historical sites such as hot springs. One night will even be spent sleeping in a teepee. Part of St. Eugene was once home to the Kootenay Indian Residential School, and the Ktunaxa Nation has transformed an icon of the darkest chapter of Canadian history into a beacon of hope for a bright future of tourism and cultural development.

A Ktunaxa elder in regalia next to a teepee at St Eugene Golf Resort, near Cranbrook.

 

To learn more about Indigenous tourism in B.C., visit Indigenous Tourism BC.

 

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