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Quietly admiring the reflection of the trees and the skyline on the glassy water, I soak in the sounds of the sea that surrounds Stanley Park, waiting for my tour to begin. Candace Campo, my guide, begins by introducing herself by her ancestral name, xets’emits’a, which means “to always be there.” She then acknowledges the land on which we stand, the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples.
Today I’m participating in a new Indigenous art tour called Talking Totems offered by Talaysay Tours. Campo, a passionate artist who is also the company’s founder, is sharing the stories, art and legends of the people who carved the totems and lived on the land for thousands of years.
Growing up as a Vancouverite, a visit to the totem poles in Stanley Park was a regular school field trip destination. We would stroll along the seawall and then wander around the tall totems, taking in the colours and carvings of the symbolic structures. What we didn’t learn about though was the origins of their creation, the people who made them and the history of the land that we now know as Stanley Park.
Canada’s cities, parks and landmarks are full of Indigenous-led walking tours that explore the rich culture of our own backyards. Here are just a few to discover as you adventure closer to home this year.
Talking Totems Indigenous Art Tour by Talaysay Tours, Vancouver
Many are familiar with the towering totem poles found in Stanley Park, but few know the full story behind these works of art, which have stood erect just steps from the city since 1920. During this tour – offered both in person and virtually – guests will learn about the gateways and carvings that make the site a must see for locals and visitors. Learn more at talaysay.com.
Guided Medicine Walk by Mahikan Trails, Clearwater County, Alta.
Brenda Holder, owner of Mahikan Trails, takes guests through varying terrain – from boreal forest to mountain meadow – for an exploration of plant medicine, sharing how her Cree ancestors survived off the land through a variety of flora that can be used for myriad purposes, from curing a flu to starting a fire. Mahikan Trails also offers hands-on workshops where guests can learn how to identify plants and make simple medicines on their own using knowledge shared by the traditional teachings of Holder’s family in Jasper, Alta. Learn more at mahikan.ca.
Walking Art Tour by Indigenous Walks, Ottawa
Explore the Indigenous history behind the art installations and monuments found throughout downtown Ottawa during this tour that begins at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, and goes through City Hall and along Elgin Street, with stops at significant sites such as Confederation Park and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame along the way. The tour, organized by Indigenous Walks owner Jaime Koebel, of Otipemisiwak (Métis) and Nehiyaw (Cree) ancestry, applies an Indigenous lens to these popular sites so that guests can learn the little-known stories of the city’s past. Learn more at destinationindigenous.ca/listings/indigenous-walk.
Mohkinstsis Tour by Many Chief Tours, St. Patrick’s Island, Calgary
Mohkinstsis – the Blackfoot word for “elbow” – refers to the elbow-like shape of the Bow River that runs through downtown Calgary. This tour offers an exploration of the history, culture and present experiences of the Blackfoot people. The location is considered to be a sacred site, and through the tour guests can learn the cultural significance and creation story that’s tied to the area known now as St. Patrick’s Island. Learn more at manychieftours.com.
Ancestral Path Experience by Moccasin Trails, Kelowna, B.C.
Offered by Indigenous educators Frank Antoine and Greg Hopf, this six-hour tour offers guests multiple ways to explore the culture of the Syilx people. Through a guided walk and visits to the Sncewips Heritage Museum, home to Syilx art and artifacts, and Kekuli Café, an Indigenous-owned eatery, participants will learn the language, taste the food, participate in the ceremonies and hear the stories of the Syilx people firsthand. For an additional fee, a wine tasting at Indigenous World Winery, British Columbia’s only 100-per-cent Indigenous-owned winery can be included. Learn more at moccasintrails.com.