A’si’em nu schala’cha: Experience Coast Salish Culture

There are so many reasons to visit British Columbia, lush forests, beautiful beaches, walkable cities, great shopping, dining and nightlife, and outdoor adventures to last a lifetime. But one would be remiss not to mention that we share this land with Indigenous People who were here long before any Europeans set foot on this soil. BC has the greatest diversity of Indigenous cultures in all of Canada, 60% of the languages of Canadian Indigenous People are spoken here and it is home to 198 distinct First Nations*. On Vancouver Island, the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka’wakw People have been the stewards of this beautiful island since time immemorial and while their language, culture, history and way-of-life were once threatened with obscurity, the First Nations of Vancouver Island have resolutely persevered, surviving the most severe tests of the human spirit, gathering and sharing their stories and languages, reigniting their traditions and and again, thriving. So if you’re looking to experience all aspects of Vancouver Island’s heritage during your stay, immerse yourself in the many moving and awe-inspiring Indigenous cultural experiences all over the island.

  1. Mid-Island

One of the most well-known symbols of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest is the totem pole. Totem poles are colourful, intricate monuments that are traditionally carved from red cedar and can feature animals, stylized human forms and supernatural beings. Totem poles document the stories and histories of First Nations family groups. One of the best places to see these beautiful monuments is only a 20 minute drive from Marble Bay Lakefront House and only 10 minutes from Cowichan Bay Oceanfront Estate in the town of Duncan. Home to the Cowichan Bands, this little town is aptly nicknamed The City of Totems as it houses over 40 beautiful and richly historied totem poles. To see them all, you can take the Totems Tour, a self-guided walking tour that leads you to all of the totem poles dotted around the town. Just follow the yellow footsteps painted on the sidewalks at your leisure and soak up the history and beauty. 

While you’re in Duncan, swing by the Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre to gain deep insights into every aspect of the Cowichan Tribes culture. Quw’utsun’ Center has lots to offer guests from local guides who know all aspects of First Nations culture to live demonstrations (the Khowutzun Tzinquaw Dancers is a must-see). Here you can visit the world’s largest carving house and both learn about the traditions of carving and carve your own totem. Make sure to stop by the gift shop to purchase authentic, traditional art or buy a traditional Cowichan sweater and support local First Nations artisans. 

  1. Victoria

Visitors from all over the world come to Victoria and marvel at the city’s seamless blend of its colonial past and modern present. But there was a time before Victoria was Victoria – a time when the Songees and SIXMELEL Nations, descendants of the Lekwungen People and members of the Coast Salish family, lived and prospered on the southernmost shores of Vancouver Island. No matter if you’re staying close by at Monaco Living or further away at Barkley Manor, the extensive and interactive First People’s Gallery at the Royal British Columbia Museum is a must! From the Living Languages exhibit, where visitors can hear the greeting of over 34 First Nations languages, to the moving Totem Hall, that evokes the feeling of a 19th century First Nations coastal village, you can learn so much about the incredibly diverse cultures that call BC, home. Right outside the Royal BC Museum doors you can find Thunderbird Park, an outdoor exhibit of totem poles from all over BC. And don’t forget to see one of the tallest, free-standing totem poles that has been carved out of a single cedar in Beacon Hill Park

To get a real taste of Coast Salish culture, try a culinary tour! The Multi-award winning Cree-Metis Executive Chef, Shirley Lang offers guests a culinary tour of Vancouver Island focused on First Nations cuisine and culture. Hike through the forest and learn about the traditional edible and medicinal plants used by the Indigenous communities, witness a dance ceremony and enjoy traditional Coast Salish feast. 

Before you leave, make sure you stop by Indigenous owned and operated Eagle Feather Gallery to shop for traditional First Nations art – here you can find traditional jewelry, carvings, paintings and prints. If you’re on the search for a traditional, handmade Cowichan sweater to take home with you, you can go to Cowichan Trading Co. for an ample selection of the incredibly beautiful, intricate garments.

  1. Sidney & the Saanich Peninsula

If you’re on the Saanich Peninsula and staying at Bazan Bay Beach House there are plenty of spots to see and experience First nations culture not far from your doorstep. The Sidney Museum is a great place to start! With over 8,000 artifacts and a regularly updated, permanent, First Nations exhibit, this humble but robust museum won’t disappoint. 

The Saanich Peninsula is located on the Salish Sea, an intricate network of coastal waterways that were an important trade route for the Coast Salish People and remain an important source of food and a deep part of the Coast Salish People’s identity, today. What better way to understand the intricacies of the area than with a trip to the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea? At this world-class, hands-on aquarium guests can see over 150 species of marine life, and attend lectures and workshops where you’ll gain an appreciation for the incredible biodiversity of the Salish Sea. If you’d prefer something a little more adventurous, whale watching may be more your speed. Sidney Whale Watching is highly rated and operates on WSANEC First Nation territory and the Salish Sea. This area is home to both transient and resident Orcas, Grey whales, Humpback whales and so much more.  

*On south Vancouver Island, there are nine different Coast Salish Communitiesº, on the Saanich Peninsula there are five bands that make up the Saanich Nation; the Tsawout, Tsartlip, Tseycum, Malahat and Pauquachin. These fourteen bands share five languages found in the southern Island, SENĆOŦEN, Malchosen, Lekwungen, Semiahmoo and T’Sou-ke. Just north of Victoria in the Cowichan Valley is the Cowichan Tribes whose traditional language is Hul’q’umi’num’. A part of the Coast Salish People, the Cowichan Band has nearly 5,000 members, making it the single largest First Nations band in BC. ºSIXMELEL (Esquimalt) Nation, Songhees First Nation, Scia’new First Nation, T’Sou-ke First Nation, Tsawout First Nation, Tsartlip First Nation, Tseycum First Nation, Pauquachin First Nation, Malahat First Nation and Metis Nation

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