First Nations Cultural Adventures

If you’re after an authentic holiday experience, start at the beginning. Vancouver Island North’s rich First Nations history is preserved and celebrated in museums, galleries and outdoor adventure.

Located within the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nation, the district of Port Hardy is also home to two neighbouring First Nation Quatsino and Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw. There’s a full range of cultural options showcasing past and present realities. Port Hardy Heritage Museum houses permanent exhibits including 8,000-year-old First Nation artifacts. The museum gift shop sells locally produced native carvings and silver jewelry.

Kwa’lilas Hotel in the heart of Port Hardy is a four-star First Nations destination hotel. Kwa’lilas is Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’wx meaning “a place to sleep.” The building design resembles a traditional big house Gukwdzi and features a curated selection of incredible local art throughout the hotel. The onsite restaurant called Ha’me serves local indigenous inspired west coast cuisine including ‘Poyi (halibut burger) and Roasted Tiq’wa’s (elk loin).

k’awat’si Tours based in Port Hardy will transport you to some of the most enchanting natural settings on their Natwakto Rapids and Cultural tour. For more of a hands-on experience sign up for a drum making or cedar weaving class. Listen to ancient knowledge as an elder from one of 3 local nations shares captivating myths and legends of their people and families.

Near Port Hardy the village of Fort Rupert is the site of first contact with Europeans in 1836 by the Hudson Bay Company. Very little of the original fort remains although the Kwakiutl First Nation still live in the area. Fort Rupert is also home to internationally renowned artist Calvin Hunt at Copper Maker Gallery. Blending the diversity, spirituality and meaning of his Kwakwaka’wakw culture, Hunt creates cedar totem poles, masks, and dance outfits.

Situated between Port Hardy and Port McNeill, Cluxewe Resort is owned and managed by the Kwakiutl people. Cluxewe is a word with two different but related meanings “change” and “refuge.” Locals and visitors come again and again to this magical coastal property to camp, fish, nature watch, comb the shell laden shore or hike forest and beach trails.

Taking guests on an immersive wildlife experience into the Musgamak’w Dzawada’enuxw territories and great bear rainforest Sea Wolf Adventures is a First Nation owned and boat-based wildlife viewing company. What sets them apart is the team is from the territory they’re guiding in. You will travel into territories that the guide’s families have inhabited for at least 14,000 years. Best known for their Grizzly Bears of the Wild tour the guides share their personal relationship to the land and wildlife. Another tour offered in the summer months is a Culture and Wildlife Tour taking visitors to Alert Bay through the Broughton Archipelago while learning more about First Nations history and culture.

Gilaksa’la “welcome” to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, home of the ‘Namgis First Nation and Whe-la-la-u Area Council. An absolute must see is the internationally renowned U’mista Cultural Centre. Showcasing repatriated potlatch items (many more than a century old) this modern museum and cultural education facility includes a museum, extensive art gallery and gift shop, hosts international scholars and supports research in a range of disciplines. Traditional dance performances, in traditional regalia by T’sasala Cultural Group, are held at the Big House (Gukwdzi) Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from July to the 3rd week in August. Steps away from the big house marvel at the world’s tallest totem pole. Originally 173 feet tall, the top ten feet of the pole fell to the ground during a 2007 storm. The towering section of the pole left standing remains an impressive sight. A short walk from the ferry terminal view memorial totem poles at the century old ‘Namgis Original Burial Grounds (please view respectfully from the road only). Commemorating ancestors of the Kwakwaka’wakw the figures on the totem poles depict family crests.

Three sisters, Andrea Cranmer, Barb Cranmer and Donna Cranmer share their incredible artistic talents at Culture Shock Interactive Gallery. Besides unique jewelry, wearable art and fantastic coffee they also offer interactive cedar weaving and storytelling experiences as well as mouth-watering barbecued salmon on the beach.

The spirit of Vancouver Island North is reflected in the culture, history and traditions of First Nation people. Experience a deep reverence for earth, wind, sky and water through wildlife, spectacular scenery and compelling stories of past and present. Perhaps you’ll rediscover your own connection between the earth and human spirit. It’s all waiting for you here.

Karen Stewart – Freelance Writer
Karen is the author of the blogs This is Port McNeill and At Water’s Edge Ventures

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