Cultural Communities in Canada
Cultural Communities in Canada
The travel topic for October is Cultural Communities. Since I live in Canada, I thought I would start the month off with cultural communities in Canada, indigenous communities particularly. I’m not an expert by any means, in fact, I’m fairly new to the topic, but since becoming a travel agent, I’ve become more and more interested in learning about different indigenous cultures. Below I share a little of what I have learned about Canada’s first people plus a few other tidbits.
In this post I share a few tidbits about cultural communities in Canada, in particular its indigenous communities. I also highlight where Canada’s indigenous communities can be found, as well as provide a handful of specific places you can go to learn about and/or experience some of Canada’s indigenous culture and heritage if visiting one of the country’s major cities.
One of the three pillars of sustainable tourism is the preservation of communities, their culture, heritage and economy. It is therefore important to learn and understand more about them and to ensure that, when we travel, we indulge in responsive indigenous tourism. So I also briefly discuaa experiencing indigenous culture responsibly.
Canada’s First Nations, Inuit & Métis
Did you know… there are 630 First Nations communities in Canada, representing more than 50 nations and 50 indigenous languages? This came as a big surprise to me, as I did not know this until I started my research. First Nations are the most predominant indigenous peoples in Canada south of the Arctic Circle, while North of the Arctic Circle is home to the Inuit, where they make up over eighty percent of the region’s population.
In addition to First Nations and Inuit, another distinct ethnic community recognized as being indigenous to Canada are the Métis who are descendants of both Aboriginal and European ancestors. Surprisingly, despite this high number of indigenous communities in Canada, only 6.2% of the Canadian population are aboriginal (2016). That’s actually up from 4.9% in 2011, 3.8% in 2006 and 3.3% in 2001 (an 88% increase since 2001).
So how many cultural communities in Canada make up the other 93.8%?
According to the 2016 census, in Canada we have over 250 origins or ancestries with around forty percent of us having more than one origin. As a non-native of Canada, born in Great Britain, I know for a fact I have more than one origin and they are not all from the United Kingdom.
The Canadian culture has been influenced by European cultures and traditions, predominantly British and French, as well as its indigenous cultures. You only have to visit our anybod Canada’s major cities to see the diverse number of cultural communities living in them.
We are a culturally diverse hodgepodge of mostly European descent but in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, you’ll find an abundance of different ethnic communities, each with their own cultures and traditions.
However, if you want to experience indigenous Canadian cultures first-hand, you’ll need to visit different regions and cities of Canada. Although, most First Nations people live in Ontario (23.6%), you may actually have difficulty finding any in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, unless you know where to go.
Totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver
Where can Canada’s indigenous communities be found?
Two of the largest Six Nations reserves are, in fact, located near me, not far from Brantford (Grand River) which is a couple of hours drive from Toronto, as well as in eastern Ontario, near Cornwall (Mohawks of Akwesasne), while the largest Métis population is now in Ottawa, Ontario.
A large number of First Nations people can be found in the western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, which has the second largest First Nations population (155,020).
First Nations can also be found in the western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, which has the second largest First Nations population (155,020).
The best city to find indigenous communities is Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has the largest indigenous population of all Canada’s major cities with 92,810 people identifying as First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
An area of land, water and ice in the Arctic region, known as Inuit Nunangat, is home to the largest Inuit community (73%), with more than half living in Nunavut, followed by Nunavik (northern Quebec) and western arctic Northwest and Yukon. In Nunavut an Northwest Territories, aboriginal people actually outnumber other nationalities (85.9% and 50.7% respectively) so this would be one of the best places to experience Inuit culture.
Experience Indigenous Culture Responsibly
While indigenous numbers are low, there are signs of Canada’s first people everywhere. You only have to see some of the names of towns and cities near me, such as Mississauga, Nassagaweya, Nottawasaga and Tecumseh to recognize their origin as First Nations. Visit Stanley Park in Vancouver and you’ll see a tribute to Canada’s First Nations in the display of totem poles there. Stroll along any lakeside beach or creek with rocks nearby, and you’ll see an Inukshuk (sometimes many Inukshuks). This man-made structure, originally used for navigation purposes by the Inuit people, is a symbol of Canada but it is also part of its indigenous people’s heritage. There are signs like these everywhere.
However, experiencing the culture and heritage of Canada’s indigenous communities should only be done through responsible indigenous tourism. It’s not a matter of driving to one of the provinces, regions or cities I’ve mentioned above, and seeking out indigenous communities, looking for places, artefacts and people so you can stare at them, take photographs without permission or, worse still, take a part of that heritage with you.
When it comes to responsible indigenous tourism, the top priority is not your entertainment and enjoyment, although these are important of course, but it’s more about preserving indigenous heritage and culture of the community you’re visiting, as well as benefiting the community economically.
It’s important that you learn about the heritage, culture and traditions through the stories told by its people; it’s important to understand and respect the community’s values, beliefs, and everything that is important to them, and it’s important to immerse yourself in its culture authentically. You can only do that by being invited and welcomed into the community, listening to stories of its past and sharing cultural experiences with its people.
Where possible, seek out indigenous experiences that are owned and run by an indigenous community or family, or at least employ indigenous people as guides and storytellers. This will ensure your indigenous experience is not only authentic but you’re helping to sustain its heritage and culture as well as support its economy.
Fire at Huron-Wendak Museum, Wendake, Quebec
We don’t need to travel far to learn about cultural communities in Canada
There are way too many responsible indigenous experiences in Canada to list them all in this article, and perhaps, I will dedicate an article for this later, but here are just a few for that I know about you. So if you’re travelling to or via one of Canada’s major cities, and want to know more about Canada’s cultural communities, check these out.
If you’re visiting Toronto and want to learn about its Indigenous history and culture, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto usually hosts lots of events through its Toronto Native Community History Program. Due to COVID-19 however, the Centre is closed at the current time and only virtual events are scheduled. In normal times, there are usually also bus tours in the city that stop at indigenous landmarks. October is culture month and there are usually many cultural activities and exhibitions throughout the province that you can experience. This year, activities have been online due to COVID-19.
If you’re in Ottawa, the Museum of Canadian History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization), is a great place to see and learn more about Canada’s indigenous communities. It is not actually in Ottawa, but located just the other side of the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec, opposite Parliament Hill and is a short walk over the bridge. When I first came for a visit to Canada for a friend’s wedding (the catalyst for my immigration here), it was quite exciting to watch the traditional First Nations dancers and displays outside the museum. At the time of writing, according to the website, the museum is currently open from Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Quebec City, Quebec
Speaking of Quebec, if you’re visiting the beautiful Quebec City, the Huron-Wendat Museum (pictured above) is a great place to learn about the history, culture and arts of the Huron-Wendat people as well as other First Nations. Located in Wendake, on the outskirts of the city, this museum is run by the Huron-Wendat people who have preserved and showcase their heritage through an interactive exhibition entitled “Territories, memories, knowledge.” In addition to exhibitions, cultural activities, animated and guided multilingual tours, you can sit around a fire in an Ekionkiestha’ national First Nations longhouse and listen to a storyteller share Indigenous myths and legends of the First Nations.
Vancouver, British Columbia
For those travelling to or via British Columbia, there are literally tons of responsible indigenous experiences to be had. A multitude of museums, heritage sites and cultural centres, where indigenous cultural ambassadors share their language, art, and culture can be found in Vancouver alone. For the more adventurous, full-blown itineraries can be created that take you on a tour of the province where you can stay in indigenous-owned accommodations, including resorts, spas, wilderness lodges, ranches and campgrounds, and experience health & wellness, paddling, hiking, biking, all while learning about and immersing yourself in Canadian indigenous culture. Visit this website for a whole bunch of indigenous things to do and places to go in British Columbia.
Local to me
Just up the road from me is the Woodland Cultural Centre, which includes an interactive museum, two art galleries, indigneous library & archives, as well as a language resource centre. Located on 5 acres of grounds on Mohawk Street, Brantford, you can learn about indigenous history, art, language and culture, as the story of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands is brought to life through their innovative exhibitions and programs. They usually have a year-round calendar of events but due to COVID, their schedule is subject to change.