Patti Smith : August 12, 2021

Travel Indigenous Canada

Tanshi, Hello, Aniin, Bonjour!

As summer travel season is upon us, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight ways in which we can enjoy both travelling around, and educating ourselves about the Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island (aka North America). Oftentimes, Canadians think they must travel to somewhere like Europe or Asia to experience a rich variety of cultures and languages, when in truth we have over 630 First Nation communities representing more than 50 distinct Indigenous Nations and 50 Indigenous languages right here in this land called Canada (Census 2016). These numbers do not even include the many Inuit communities of the Arctic region, or the extensive Métis Nation. With over 2 million people identifying as Indigenous in Canada, or 6.2% of the population, isn’t it time we educate ourselves about the diverse Indigenous Nations here in our own backyard and approach travel on Turtle Island the way we approach travel abroad?

Now, let’s imagine you are going to take a trip across Canada, but instead of going province by province you decide to travel Nation by Nation. What would that look like and where would you even begin? First thing you could do is find out whose traditional lands are you on. If you are unsure, a great place to start is an app called “Whose Land”. This app allows you to search communities based on location by typing in a city/region or using the Where Am I? feature. You will then be given information related to whose ancestral and traditional territories you are visiting, any treaties or agreements from that area, and links to First Nation communities currently residing there you can explore.

While this is a good place to start, your journey it is only a beginning. Going beyond just acknowledging whose traditional lands you are visiting does require a bit more research, but so does a trip to Italy, right? Once you’ve figured out whose land you are visiting, maybe next you would like to learn about that Nation’s history (outside of the usual colonial narrative of course). You could start with a search online, ideally looking for resources created by Indigenous people or featuring Indigenous voices. You could watch a video about a particular Nation or listen to stories from that community – there are so many wonderful Indigenous created resources out there that you could get happily lost for days exploring history, language, culture of any one Nation.

Follow up by doing some research to see if there are any Nation-led museums or Cultural Centers available to the public you could visit. For example, maybe you are visiting southern Alberta – traditional territory of the Blackfoot/Niitsitapi Nation – you could check out Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump: an Interpretive Centre that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture. Or maybe you’d like to journey to the East coast and want to learn a little more about Mi’kmaq culture. How about visiting Metepenagiag Heritage Park located in Red Bank, New Brunswick, here you can tour the Interpretive Centre, experience storytelling, and walk the lands learning from Mi’kmaq guides and Elders along the way; you can even learn a few Mi’kmaq words while you are there!

Which leads me to my next suggestion: learning some words in the local Indigenous language. When you travel to Spain or Mexico, it’s common to learn a few words like ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’, so why not learn how to say a few words in the Indigenous language of the Nation whose lands you are on? How about

learning to say Tanshi – hello in Michif the language of the Métis. Or you could learn to say Oki – hello in Blackfoot/Siksikáí’powahsin, or a simple Miigwech – thank you in Ojibway/Anishinaabe. Many Indigenous languages have and continue to be lost to history making it more important than ever for all Canadians to take a role in supporting Indigenous languages and their revitalization. Even learning a few words helps.

Travel is an education that allows us to learn about language and culture from the perspectives of the people who are from that land. Journey in any direction from where you are right now and I guarantee there are stories you have yet to learn; stories waiting for you from the land, from the people, from each community and every Indigenous Nation of Turtle Island. Go educate yourself, approach learning about Indigenous Nations the way you would approach learning about any culture whose lands you travel through; be genuine, be open, be kind, and listen. I know you will be grateful you took the journey.

Happy Travels!

Marsee, Thank you, Miigwech, Merci

ENGLISH