How to visit in a respectful way

The floatplane views prove stunning on a flight from Klemtu to Bella Bella — Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC

At a time when trending words like “mindful,” “intentional” and “sustainable” surround the realm of travel, it can be overwhelming to know how to see more of our beautiful world without causing further harm. On that note, it seems most appropriate to look toward Indigenous communities, the original stewards of the land, for guidance on how to proceed.

In Canada, Indigenous Tourism BC helps visitors explore British Columbia’s six diverse and beautiful regions, while authentically connecting them to the 203 Indigenous communities (who speak more than 30 Indigenous languages). Through these interactions, we can witness cultures and daily lives intrinsically linked to ecosystems – while learning why these communities have always worked so hard to protect the land on which they dwell.

After an incredibly impactful trip to Bella Bella – a stunning and ethereal destination located on the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest – we were lucky enough to talk with Megan Humchitt, an Elected Council member for the Heiltsuk Nation. There is so much Humchitt cherishes about the place she grew up, including its strong culture, close family connections and the fact that when anyone in her community needs assistance, they all band together to help.

Heiltsuk Nation community members visit with artists working on intricately designed postsHeiltsuk Nation community members visit with artists working on intricately designed posts — Photo courtesy of Kyle Artell Heiltsuk Nation, Bella Bella BC

She also expresses pride for everything her people have done (past and present) to ensure that their territory and ecosystems are protected, and she promises that if you come to visit, you will understand why they’ve worked so diligently to make that happen. She comments, “We live in an extremely vibrant and special place, and we have to continue to work hard to make sure it stays that way.”

Humchitt adds, “I value the fact that I can go 10 minutes from our small community and be standing by a river watching the salmon run, or a humpback breach, or a bear fishing, or listen to howling wolves. I value the fact that I can still get my dinner from the waters that my ancestors fished. I value the fact that we’ve been in this place since time immemorial, and when I walk through the forests, I can see our history written on trees and stones.”

She hopes to show others her people’s relationship with the land – the last contiguous intact temperate rainforest in the world. “By engaging with visitors and sharing this place with them,” she says. “I hope that they too will see and understand how special it is, and perhaps they will become allies and advocates to ensure that it is always safe.”

The sheer beauty of BC and its natural inhabitants can easily take one's breath awayThe sheer beauty of BC and its natural inhabitants can easily take one’s breath away — Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC

What wisdom does Humchitt have to pass on when it comes to Indigenous tourism? She says, “I would recommend doing a little bit of research prior to traveling. Find out who the Indigenous people are that you’ll be engaging with; what are some of the issues that are important to them? Leave the stereotypes at the door. Come with an open mind. No question asked respectfully is a stupid question.”

She adds that it’s best to avoid taking photos of people without their permission. “In my community, people are really friendly and curious about visitors, so strike up a conversation; it goes a long way.”

Where to visit

Heiltsuk Nation elders blessed the Big House posts with eagle feathers during a sacred ceremonyHeiltsuk Nation elders blessed the Big House posts with eagle feathers during a sacred ceremony — Photo courtesy of Qatuwas Brown Heiltsuk Nation, Bella Bella BC

Bella Bella, Humchitt’s home, is hoping to grow its tourism market in the future; for now, the destination offers a real look at life in a tranquil, non-commercial setting. Guests can get there via plane from Vancouver or via ferry from Port Hardy in summer months, when it’s common for RV travelers to pause here on their journey.

Current lodging options include several homes-turned-B&Bs, most with kitchens in which to cook one’s own meals. There are also a handful of places to eat in town. Guests can set up fishing and sightseeing charters with locals.

In exciting news, Heiltsuk recently bought Shearwater Resort, consisting of a hotel, restaurant, marina, grocery and hardware store, and plan to launch ecotours in the future. The Qatuwalas information center, open in the spring and summer, is a hub for learning about important Bella Bella history and modern-day happenings.

Savor the beauty of Indigenous-inspired Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, located in Canada's only desertSavor the beauty of Indigenous-inspired Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, located in Canada’s only desert — Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC

Indigenous tourism possibilities are starting to develop on more remote parts of Vancouver Island, too, like the chance to hike amid the rugged beauty of Yuquot, the Nuu-chah-nulth word for “winds coming from all directions.” Take a day trip to this destination via float plane or boat.

In 1778, Captain Cook was the first European to come upon this mystical place, which he renamed Friendly Cove. In recent years, the Nootka people have reclaimed the name Yuquot as they work to recover their culture, too.

Experience the magic of the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural CentreExperience the magic of the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre — Photo courtesy of Destination BC

For travelers seeking luxury-tinged indulgence, enjoy delightful drinking and dining experiences (the restaurant opens for the season in the spring) at Nk’Mip Cellars, one of the oldest and largest wineries in the Okanagan – best known for being the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America.

Here, the continent’s first Indigenous winemaker and proud Osoyoos Indian Band council member Justin Hall produces delicious wines that reflect the region’s terroir – all elevated by the property’s lake and mountain views. Guests can fly directly to Penticton Airport, which is located less than an hour’s drive away.

Enjoy the wine at Nk'Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North AmericaEnjoy the wine at Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America — Photo courtesy of Jon Adrian

In Whistler’s Upper Village, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is the first center of its kind in Canada. To create this exquisite site, two nations came together to celebrate and share their sacred history, stories, art and more.

The museum features Culture Ambassadors from the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, who offer hourly guided tours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) featuring a traditional welcome song and 15-minute film. Be sure to check out the gift shop and Thunderbird Café, an Indigenous-inspired eatery.

Haida Gwaii, a rugged archipelago of 150 rocky islands off British Columbia's West Coast, can be tricky to access at timesHaida Gwaii, a rugged archipelago of 150 rocky islands off British Columbia’s West Coast, can be tricky to access at times — Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Brandon Hartwig

In Northern British Columbia, mystical and exquisitely remote Haida Gwaii is the ancestral territory of the Haida Nation. Travelers have to put in time and effort to arrive at this Canadian archipelago that’s made up of 150 rocky islands, by either flying from Vancouver (YVR) into Sandspit (YZP) or Masset (ZMT), or by traveling via BC Ferries (sometimes an 8-hour ferry journey).

After landing in this rugged destination, home to abundant wildlife including the world’s biggest black bears, the local motto immediately rings true: “Once you’ve reached the edge of your world, ours begins.” Find a home base in a cozy, ocean-view cabin at Haida House at Tllaal, tucked onto Graham Island’s dramatic east side.

Since the venue specializes in authentic Indigenous cultural adventures, let local guides take you on sacred experiences at active carving sheds and some of the region’s 500-plus archeological sites. Don’t miss a seafood-centric, traditional Haida meal at Keenawaii’s Kitchen – or an afternoon at the highly educational and fascinating Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay in Skidegate.

Whistler visitors can't miss the welcoming Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre during their stayWhistler visitors can’t miss the welcoming Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre during their stay — Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC

Humchitt concludes, “I think communities are ready and see the value of Indigenous tourism. Not only can it be used as an economic driver in communities, but it can also be a mechanism of healing, allowing people to connect with the land and culture.

“This is especially true for youth who are seeking that connection. Indigenous tourism is about building relationships, and we are in a place right now where we are standing in our power and saying, ‘Yes, come and visit, but let me show you why this place is important.’ And when you leave, hopefully you’ll take some of where you visited with you.”

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