BC tourism celebrates Indigenous History Month with free virtual events

In the workshops, Indigenous people share their own stories, exploring cuisine, arts, culture, history and wellness.

Totems at Thunderbird Park in Victoria, BC. Photo: Indigenous Tourism BC.
Totems at Thunderbird Park in Victoria, BC. Photo: Indigenous Tourism BC.

June is National Indigenous History Month and Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) is hosting a series of free virtual events to celebrate. The workshops provide an opportunity to learn about Indigenous history and culture and promote local tourism ventures that people can visit once it becomes safe to do so. 

“We’re very excited,” says Brenda Baptiste, chair of ITBC. “National Indigenous Peoples Day is June 21 and it’s the solstice as well. From a ceremonial perspective, it’s always an important time for us.”

The virtual events will provide a unique opportunity for folks from all over to learn about the rich and varied history within our province. There are over 200 First Nations in BC, says Baptiste: “It gives us such a diversity of cultures within this province.” 

Themes covered include food and beverage, culture and arts, and wellness with hosts from a variety of different First Nations.

“I’m really excited to share a piece of our history and our culture,” says ‘Max̱w’ma̱widza̱mg̱a Sara Fulla, Tourism Coordinator at U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay. Her virtual event Celebrating Living Indigenous Art & Culture will showcase the Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch collection. 

We’re going to be in the actual potlatch collection exhibit where you’re not supposed to have cameras or take pictures,” Fulla says. “It’s really exciting that this will be a live event with the collection behind us.” 

This rarity is one of many pivots to online tours made in the last year. The pandemic has forced creativity within the tourism sector and, while Baptiste is looking forward to when folks can safely travel again, there are benefits to the virtualization of experiences.

“It expands our reach significantly, and I think it’s something that we’ll continue to do,” says Baptiste who also notes that the pandemic acted as “a catalyst for British Columbians to become more interested in the province.”

Both Fulla and Baptiste believe tourism plays a vital role in the revitalization of Indigenous culture. The impacts of these Indigenous ventures often run much deeper than what is apparent on the surface. 

“You have the economic drivers, [so] we’re going to create a business that’s going to bring full-time jobs to the community, but you also have cultural and language revitalization as part of that,” says Baptiste. “You can’t share who you are, or your culture without knowing your culture.”

‘Max̱w’ma̱widza̱mg̱a Sara Fulla embodies that sentiment. The Alert Bay native’s first job was with U’mista when she was 17. When she left to complete a Tourism Management degree at VIU, it was “all about coming back to her home community.” Now she runs a tourism department that’s 100 per cent Kwakwaka’wakw operated. 

“Tourism allows us to tell our stories”, says Fulla. “Tourism is an opportunity for people like U’mista and other Indigenous organizations to share the story of the people, the story of the history, and the story of the place.”

ITBC is hosting three events throughout the month of June:

A Tasting of Indigenous Cultures – Tuesday, June 15 at 2pm PST / 5pm EST 

Eventbrite registration: https://bit.ly/33U30W

This exploration of Indigenous wine and cuisine will guide viewers on how to make authentic bannock at home and teach them about the history and practices of Indigenous winemaking. The hosts are Paul Natrall, chef and owner of Vancouver-based food truck Mr. Bannock, and  Ryan Widdup, manager and sommelier of Indigenous World Winery in the Okanagan. 

Celebrating Living Indigenous Arts & Culture – Thursday, June 17 at 2pm PST / 5pm EST

Eventbrite registration: https://bit.ly/3eZktmw.

Virtual visit the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, where Sara Fulla will explore the cultural significance of potlatches and the artistic practices of cedar weaving, song and dance. Then travel to the Great Bear Rainforest in Klemtu, where Sierra Hall of Spirit Bear Lodge will discuss ways that Indigenous people foster connections with the land through harvesting traditional foods, wildlife watching, viewing petroglyphs, and historical tours. 

Honouring Wellness – Tuesday, June 22 at 2pm PST / 5pm EST 

Eventbrite registration: https://bit.ly/3ft3J5V

This exploration of indigenous wellness rituals will begin with a smudging ceremony hosted by Frank Antoine, co-founder of Moccasin Trails in the Okanagan, who will educate viewers on the colonization of Indigenous wellness practices. Dennis Thomas of the eco-tourism company Takaya Tours will share ancestral knowledge of the lands and waters on the traditional territories that Indigenous people have travelled for generations.

Further reading:

Indigenous tourism industry gets creative in rebounding from the pandemic

Island tourism destination development gets a much needed boost.