Experience Indigenous Culture in the Heart of the City
Sea to Sky lightbox, downtown Vancouver. Coast Salish artist, Kelly Cannell, from the Musqueam Nation Credit: Rachel Topham
You don’t have to head far away from the downtown core to discover more about different Indigenous cultures in Canada. Whether it’s visiting an art gallery, signing up for a guided walking tour, or even eating at an Indigenous restaurant there are plenty of ways to learn more about different Indigenous nations right in the heart of major Canadian cities. Here are some ideas to get you inspired!
Brand new for 2018, check social media to track down Mr. Bannock, Vancouver’s first Indigenous food truck, which rolled on to the streets in January. Created by Squamish Nation chef, Paul Natrall, who says, “We take pride and joy in sharing fusion Indigenous cuisine, using traditional ingredients from the Squamish Nation such as juniper berries, smoked wild salmon and meats, and traditional methods such as clay baking and stone baking.” The striking art on the food truck is done by Heiltsuk artist KC Hall, representing the traditional foods: berries, and the three sisters of squash, corn, and beans; all ingredients for Paul’s Indigenous-fusion street food. Items from Mr. Bannock’s launch menu including award-winning Indian taco, a bannock calzone, and a waffle bannock.
Combine a walk through one of Vancouver’s most famous downtown attractions, Stanley Park, with Talaysay Tours’ Candace Campo and her team of First Nations guides. Gain a First Nations perspective on how people grew up on the land and sea on a 90-minute tour which takes place in the forest and focusses on First Nations peoples, their medicine, technology, and the foods which they gathered for millennia.
Get off-piste and make for the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre in the Upper Village to learn more about these two nations in a gorgeous setting surrounded by mountains. Journey through the world of the Squamish and Lil’Wat peoples, through song, stories, a movie, and hands-on craft workshop, accompanied by a cultural ambassador. In the summer stay for the delicious salmon BBQ feast!
New in 2016, the Audain Art Museum is a great stop off if you want to explore the intricate and beautiful art of Northwest Coast First Nations. Pride of the collection is Haida carver, James Hart’s The Dance Screen (The Scream Too), the most significant contemporary carved cedar Dance Screen in the world, you can also see his work at the National Gallery of Canada.
A can’t-miss city experience in Calgary, the Moonstone Creation Gallery is a mother-daughter-co-owned space where visitors can shop for traditional and contemporary clothing, including custom-made 100% smoked tanned hide jackets and vests, along with elk and deer-hide drums and rattles, and Bear medicine Mas-Kih-Kiy CREEm for soothing skin and aching joints and muscles. Book ahead and join one of the workshops led by Cree artists, such as the Fish Scale Art class where participants can learn about this delicate art form which originated in Northern Canada amongst the Cree & Dene People using fragile, biodegradable scales. Few pieces survived to make it to galleries or museums, so artist Amy Willier has found a solution using modern materials and an acrylic finish to create durable contemporary pieces. Other workshops include moccasin making, traditional beadwork and a class on Medicine Wheel teaching.
Go on a self-guided stroll around Pindigen Park, which opened in June 2017, at the southeast corner of Wellington Street and Booth Street (on LeBreton Flats, not far from the Canadian War Museum). The new park celebrates Indigenous culture and heritage in the capital region, was created in partnership with the local Anishinabe First Nation communities of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, and with the support of Canadian Heritage. On-site there are interpretive panels with text in Algonquin, English, and French, and colourful illustrations depicting the Anishinaabe interacting with land, water, air, and people. There are also large steel animal silhouettes of a moose, black bear, river otter, eagle, and turtle, created by Sylvia Tennisco based on artwork by Tony Amikons. Both artists live in the Pikwakanagan First Nation community.
Or, dive in deeper into Ottawa’s history and book a walking tour with Jaime Koebel, of Indigenous Walks to gain an indigenous perspective on social, political, cultural and artistic spaces in the downtown core. Jamie, a talented visual artist, and international award-winning dancer, is Otipemisiwak/Nehiyaw (Métis/Cree). The goal of Indigenous Walks is to provide the public with an opportunity to become aware of who Indigenous people are in a safe, interesting and caring environment, right in the heart of the nation’s Capital.
Dig into delicious Anishnawbe foods, such as dandelion greens salad, Three Sisters soup, and roasted buffalo or cedar-smoked salmon at NishDish on Bloor Street West. Serving up all-day brunch throughout the weekend, breakfast till noon (with griddle cakes and sausages made from the game), and lunch and dinner from Tuesday-Sunday, NishDish invite visitors to come and celebrate and experience traditional food as a medicine nourishing the spirit!
Once you’ve feasted, it’s time to hit the shops at the Cedar Basket, within the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, to browse First Nations, Métis and Inuit handcrafted jewelry, beadwork, baskets and original artworks.
Visiting the Prairies? Get cultural with a trip to the Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s only professional Indigenous theatre company. The GTNT produces a range of different plays and events each year, in the past season they’ve performed everything from a Vegas Christmas comedy to an epic portrayal of the struggles of the Métis in the Canadian West. Along with theatrical performances, the theatre also hosts cultural outreach programs, including the Circle of Voices which helps aspiring artists explore their creativity.
Reconnect food with the culture at Feast Cafe Bistro in the West End of Winnipeg, where co-owner/chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther, of the Peguis nation, cooks up a tasty menu of traditional favourites. If you’re new to Manitoba, it’s a great way to try some of its regional ingredients such as bison, pickerel, wild rice and Saskatoon berries cooked using traditional techniques such as multi-day stewing. Make sure you try Christa’s famous squash bannock pizza or the delicious two-day marinade maple chicken.
Make time to stop by Teekca’s Aboriginal Boutique when you’re visiting The Forks, Winnipeg’s famous meeting place and market, and shop for unique hand-crafted gifts and clothing from First Peoples across North America. Teekca’s stocks artisan Aboriginal-made arts and crafts such as mukluks, moccasins, leather jackets, beadwork, blankets, jewelry, carvings and paintings which draw on the history, geography, and culture of different nations, using natural resources from the land. The boutique is owned and operated by Marilyn Tanner-Spence (Waywayseecappo) and Chief Walter Spence (Fox Lake Cree Nation), and they also offer workshops so you can learn to make beaded earrings, or try your hand at caribou tufting. Want something truly unique? Ask them about their bespoke service to get the custom-made piece of art or leather jacket of your dreams!