First Nations in British Columbia: 5 sites to discover

They are, historically, the “first Canadians”: the expression “First Nations” designates the indigenous peoples of the country, also called “Amerindians” or “natives”. A human mosaic, of great cultural and linguistic diversity, to discover during a trip to Canada and more particularly to the west of the country, in British Columbia. Here are 5 must-see sites where you can make an appointment with the fascinating universe and the abundant culture of these First Nations ...

The First Nations, a culture to discover absolutely

Long before the arrival of European settlers, the current territory of Canada sheltered a very varied population, settled for nearly 10 years: Amerindian peoples, of great cultural diversity, known today under the term of "First Nations". Nations ”. In British Columbia, a province that claims its Native American roots, as many as 000 distinct First Nations make up about one-third of all Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The First Nations rely on tourism to communicate a culture first built on oral tradition. Museums, cultural centers, natural spaces, a site listed as a World Heritage Site ... Many places, where the memory of these peoples is preserved forever, are to be visited to discover all the richness of the culture of the First Nations .

Vancouver Museum of Anthropology

This is a must visit to learn about the culture of the First Nations of British Columbia. Opened in 1976 and located in former Musqueam territory, the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, which overlooks the sea, features a rich collection of artistic and ceremonial objects from local Native American cultures.

Its superb architecture, designed by Arthur Erickson, with a post and beam structure, evokes the constructions found in the native villages of the Northwest Coast. From the entrance, a large hall with 15-meter glass walls, you are immersed in another era, with canoes and an exceptional set of totems created by the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Nisga'a, the Gitxsan and the Haida.

Masks, bows, canoes, sculptures, pottery… The MOA houses some 40.000 ethnographic and 535.000 archaeological objects, offering the best possible panorama of First Nations cultures. The museum director recalls the specificity of this institution: “Instead of presenting the objects, according to their origin, their use or their type, the museum arranges them according to indigenous criteria. »Thus, the objects are grouped according to the ceremony for which they were used. Outside, around a small pond, the walk continues under the impassive gaze of the totem poles. Fascinating.

The Bill Reid Gallery and the totem poles of Stanley Park in Vancouver

To discover contemporary First Nations art, head to downtown Vancouver and the Bill Reid Gallery, which highlights the work of this illustrious Haida artist (1920-1998). Goldsmith, sculptor, engraver, Bill Reid is considered one of the country's greatest artists. Maybe you've admired one of his paintings… on a $ 20 bill. In 2004, works by Bill Reid were selected to represent arts and culture in Canada on some 25 million twenty dollar bills.

The gallery exhibits one of his major works, Mythic Messengers, an 8,5-meter bronze frieze! As you leave Vancouver by plane, you will take the memory of this man with you. For its massive sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the jade canoe is located at the departures level of the airport.

Close to downtown, the magnificent Stanley Park is also worth spending a few hours on foot or by bike. Beaches, forests, rose garden, aquarium and a beautiful view of Vancouver's skyscrapers make up one of the most beautiful (and largest!) Urban parks in the world.

Stanley Park is also a place of Native American memory: Brockton Point, on a strip of land jutting out into the bay, nine totems have been erected in honor of the first inhabitants of the area, the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh. The first four totems were installed in 1924. The last, in 2009, pays homage to Rose Cole Yelton, the last Squamish to have lived here. Eagle, crow, wolf, whale are represented there ... Each animal refers to a memory of the family. A moving site.

Squamish Lil'Wat Cultural Center in Whistler

It is a popular destination for snow sports enthusiasts: located at the foot of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler is one of the most renowned hill stations in North America.

But you don't come to Whistler just to ski. The city is also home to an important museum, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center, dedicated to these two First Nations living in the region. The Squamish were more oriented towards the coast and the ocean, the Lil'wat more inland and therefore the mountain. Despite their differences, in 2001, they decided to unite to work for the conservation of their culture.

The visit begins with a traditional song sung by a guide from one of the two Nations, followed by the presentation of a short film on the Squamish and the Lil'wat. In the large hall, visitors are greeted by a 12-meter canoe. Called "Nexws Chachu7", it was created from a single cedar tree and is taken to sea each year for a ceremony. Other exhibits: blankets, baskets, percussion instruments, tools ... The cultural center also reveals works born from the weaving of wool, of which the Squamish were experts. They even created by hybridization a special breed of dog, to collect the hair and make textiles!

The Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center in Osoyoos

No wonder to find vines here. The Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia is distinguished by a dry and sunny climate. The city where the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center is also called Osoyoos, a name which means "narrowing of the waters" in the Amerindian dialect of Colville-Okanagan. A language unfortunately threatened with extinction.

Bordered by a lake, the small municipality of Osoyoos was founded after the arrival of settlers in 1811. But the Syilx had already been around for centuries. Inaugurated in 2006, the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center celebrates these First Nations. Built according to strict ecological standards, the building, which blends in perfectly with its surroundings, evokes the traditional dwellings of the Okanagans.

This cultural center is also famous for its adobe wall 80 meters long and 5,5 meters high, the largest of its kind in North America. Its visit allows you to learn the arts and customs of the Syilx, through captioned panels and everyday objects. The place also offers more unique activities, such as an excursion that leads to abseiling!

Haida Gwai Archipelago

Off the coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii Archipelago is on the road tos first men to cross the Bering Strait to populate the continent. In any case, archaeological remains attest to a human presence 6 years ago. The name of the archipelago made up of 000 islands (including two major ones: Graham and Moresby) means “the islands of the people” in Haida.

The Haida still make up a third of the archipelago's population. To discover their history, head to the town of Skidegate and the Haida Gwaii Museum. But the jewel of this culture is located further south. This is the village of Ninstints, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Occupied until 1880, it contains the remains of cedar bark houses, as well as funeral and commemorative poles.

By its isolation and because it escaped the last ice age, the Haida Gwai archipelago has an astonishing biodiversity, so much so that it is sometimes nicknamed "the Galapagos of the North". Do not miss a walk south in the Gwaii Haanas nature reserve to soak up the spirituality that emanates from the place.


Consult our online guide Canada

Destination Canada

The First Nations in Canada Tourist Site

Canadian Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

Government site of the Canadian Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Ideal for answering your questions about Amerindian populations and First Nations.

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