Parks Canada places have Indigenous stories to share. Nearly all of these special natural and cultural places have been traditionally used by Indigenous peoples long before Canada became a country. These sacred sites are as vital as ever to their culture and connection to the land. To start on your journey of exploration, here are a few of the many amazing places where you can discover and interact with the living history of the Indigenous people in Canada.
Gwaii Haanas - gw-eye haa-nass
Gwaii Haanas means "islands of beauty" in the Haïda language and is world renowned for its cultural heritage and natural splendour. It boasts an unparalleled biological richness, more than 600 archaeological sites and a cultural history that dates back more than 12,000 years. Gwaii Haanas in British Columbia is located in the southern end of the archipelago of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Ancient village sites lie scattered amongst the islands, including SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage site home to two dozen cedar totem poles that represent family and clan crests like eagle and bear; carved more than 100 years ago.
Plants and animals find shelter in these islands where some trees are over 1,000 years old and 95 metres tall. Every fall, the waters of Gwaii Haanas offer an unparalleled spectacle as tens of thousands of Pacific salmon jostle each other to swim back up the coastal streams to spawn before dying and nourishing the forest. The fauna of the Haida Gwaii archipelago is unique: six land mammal subspecies are not found anywhere else on the planet. There are no words to describe the wonder of scuba diving in one of the best preserved and most sacred places in the world.
Today the Haida remain closely tied to their land and waters, using the Gwaii Haanas area to harvest food. The Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada co-manage the park reserve since its establishment in 1988 and a highlight of your visit will be meeting the Haida Gwaii Watchmen.
Ivvavik – Eev-vah-veek
Ivvavik means "a place for giving birth, a nursery" in Inuvialuktun, the language of the Inuvialuit, the Inuit of the Western Arctic. High in the northwest corner of Yukon, the beauty that awaits you in this national park is indescribable. The Firth, Canada’s oldest flowing river, cuts a turquoise trail through the rolling, hills of the British Mountains. The park protects a large portion of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd and represents the Northern Yukon and Mackenzie Delta natural regions. Ivvavik was the first Canadian national park created as the result of an individual land claim settlement, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement signed in 1984. Throughout the park you will find evidence of stone and sod remains of Dorset, Thule, Eskimo and Inuit habitation, tools used by Paleo-Arctic communities and old fishing sites along the shores of the Firth River. Ivvavik is a living cultural landscape on which Inuvialuit continue traditional practices, including subsistence harvesting.
Kejimkujik – ke-jim-koo-jik
Meaning “Land of the little fairies”, Kejimkujik in Nova Scotia has been a significant site for the Mi’kmaq for millennia. With its abundance of caribou, moose, fish and other staple foods, the Kejimkujik area was an ideal place to camp, hunt, fish and gather. Today you can hike age-old pathways through towering groves of original growth forest and paddle ancient routes through interconnected lakes and rivers. There are more than 500 petroglyphs in the park. These images lend a voice to the lives of those who make their home in this area.
Saoyú-Ɂehdacho - Sahw-you Eh-da-choh
A visit to this national historic site brings unparalleled healing and great comfort. Saoyú and Ɂehdacho mean "Grizzly Bear Mountain" and "Scented Grass Hills" respectively. Saoyú and Ɂehdacho are two large peninsulas reaching into Great Bear Lake just south of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories and are teaching and spiritual places essential to the cultural well-being of the Sahtugot’ine (the First Nations people of the Great Bear Lake). Bathed by the waters of Great Bear Lake - a vast inland sea that is the largest fresh water lake in Canada and the ninth largest lake in the world - this unique historical site abounds with the culture of the Sahtugot’ine who believe that the land is sacred. This site offers an opportunity to better understand the origins of the culture of the Sahtu Dene, their spiritual values, lifestyle and land use. For them, the land is alive with stories, blending the natural and supernatural worlds. These stories serve as the link between the people and the land.
Ukkusiksalik - oo-koo-sik-sa-lik
Ukkusiksalik means "place to find stone to make pots" in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit of Nunavut. In fact, hundreds of archaeological sites show that the area has long been a gathering spot for Inuit. For over 3,000 years, populations drawn to the spectacular landscape with its abundant wildlife have gathered here, camped and paddled these waters. Inuksuit (plural of inuksuk) wayfinding, stone markers used by Inuit, are plentiful across the park landscape. Often, trails used by caribou herds were marked with inuksuit, which would serve as hunters’ blinds for when the caribou passed by. Wager Bay offers unique features with its 8-metre high tides and strong tidal effects producing amazing reversing falls. Two saltwater stretches remain open year-round, contributing to the park's wealth of marine life. To experience a wondrous Arctic adventure, visitors are encouraged to travel to the park by boat with an experienced outfitter, to safely observe the region's polar bears and abundant marine life, including seals, belugas and, sometimes, narwhals.
Journey back in time to 19th century Métis settler life on the banks of the meandering South Saskatchewan River. The community of Batoche is located where the Carlton Trail - the primary overland trade route between Fort Edmonton and Fort Garry – crossed the river. The Metis in Batoche laid out their farms in distinctive long, narrow river lots, so that everyone had access to the river and neighbours were close by. Along with farming, the Metis lived principally by freighting, trading and raising cattle. This peaceful rolling parkland filled with prairie sage, songbirds and rabbits was the final battlefield of the Northwest Resistance of 1885, an uprising born of years of the Metis people feeling excluded from the growth and development of the Canadian West. Batoche commemorates this armed conflict between the Canadian government and the Metis provisional government led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Explore the rifle pits and read the names on the stones at the cemetery in this home of Metis culture and heritage.
In the thick forests of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the rapids at the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and the Clearwater rivers mark a site long used by the Piikani First Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. In 1799, the Northwest Company established Rocky Mountain House here to serve as a fur trade post. A rival post was built nearby just days later by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The posts were small and remote, but they brought international trade goods like tea, firearms, gunpowder, axes, glass beads, copper pots and more to Indigenous peoples. First Nations, Métis, trappers, and traders used the rivers like highways, transporting their goods to sell at the forts. For 76 years Rocky Mountain House was the centre of commerce for the west. The great mapmaker, David Thompson used the site as his starting point when seeking passage to the west coast. First Nation guides helped Thompson create two fur trade routes through the Rockies: Howse Pass and Athabasca Pass. Two centuries ago Indigenous peoples, trappers and traders shared the rugged western frontier of Canada. At Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site in Alberta - be a part of the story. Explore, hike, camp and discover their challenges and triumphs.