Between the Pacific Ocean and Rocky Mountains, British Columbia (BC) is Canada’s westernmost province. It is also the second-most visited by international tourists, drawn to the scenic beauty of its vast wildernesses as well as Canadian wildlife greats such as grizzly bears and orcas, ancient rainforests, majestic mountain ranges and scores of islands, lakes and waterfalls. Plus there’s another compelling reason to visit. British Columbia is home to Canada’s most diverse indigenous cultures.
Long before the arrival of Europeans, the original inhabitants – the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples – lived here in what is now known as BC for more than 10,000 years. They developed unique societies, customs, traditions, territories and laws. Lifestyle and culture evolved distinctly depending on whether one lived on the north-west coast or in the Northwest Plateau, between the Coast Mountains and the Rockies, leading to vast differences between the peoples. They are united, however, by a deep connection to nature, a rich oral tradition and respect for elders.
When explorers and settlers arrived in the mid-18th century, the indigenous numbered in the thousands. Today, there are approximately 200,000, about 4% of BC’s 5.2 million residents. British Columbia is Canada’s most diverse province for indigenous peoples, home to 198 distinct First Nations, one-third of Canada’s total. And with 34 living languages and close to 60 dialects spoken, BC also counts the most First Nations languages.
With such a richness of cultures and a visitor-focused economy, British Columbia has a vibrant and ever-growing indigenous travel industry in all six of the province’s diverse regions, helmed by Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC). The Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw’akw are experts at navigating the Pacific Ocean around Vancouver Island; northern BC is home to many distinct indigenous peoples, including the Nisga’a, Haida and Tahltan; the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, which spans the province’s lower middle from the Pacific Coast to the Cariboo Mountains, is the territory of the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, and Dakelh; the Vancouver Coast and Mountains is homeland of the Coast Salish people, including Squamish, Lil’wat, Sto:lo, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh; the Nlaka’pamux, Okanagan and Secwepemc First Nations live in the Thompson Okanagan region; while the Ktunaxa inhabit the rugged Kootenay Rockies area.
By choosing indigenous-owned and -operated tourism experiences, travellers share in living languages, cultures and traditions, gleaning understanding and creating more meaningful connections to people, land and wildlife. The following are six places for visitors to get a taste of the many diverse indigenous experiences on offer in British Columbia.