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Canada’s Vancouver Island is the ancestral homeland of 53 different First Nations, from the Coastal Salish in the south, to the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples in the north. The home of the Kwakwaka’wakw for millennia, Northern Vancouver Island and the waters along its coasts teem with orcas, grizzly bears, and gulls—animals that play prominent roles in the origin stories of the First Nations that live in this part of British Columbia. Here are four places to include on your itinerary to Northern Vancouver Island, for insights into both the place and its peoples.

 

Dolphin spotting on a Zodiac expedition with Sea Wolf Adventures

Sea Wolf Adventures Zodiac Expedition

Owned and operated by Mike Willie, a member of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation who was raised in the remote village of Kingcome Inlet, British Columbia, Sea Wolf Adventures aims to connect travelers to the land, water, wildlife, and culture of the region. The company, based in Port MacNeill, offers tours in aluminum Zodiacs with licensed guides that include three- to four-hour trips into the heart of the traditional territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, where guests learn about the group’s spiritual connection to wildlife. On longer ten- to 12-hour adventures, there are opportunities to track and view grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. Sea Wolf guides make every effort to share their culture and values in an authentic, respectful way.

 

Drum-making classes with Ka'wat'si Tours offer insights into the cultural significance of the instrument

Drum Making: Ka'wat'si Tours

Widely considered to be the first instrument used by humans not just to make music but to communicate, drums are an intrinsic part of a First Nations’ way of life. They have used drums throughout history at feasts and potlaches to sing songs and tell stories, and Ka'wat'si Tours in Port Hardy shares this culturally significant instrument with its guests.  Learn how to make a traditional Gwa’sala Nakwaxda’xw drum crafted from locally sourced yellow cedar and deer hide during this interactive drum-making workshop. You will be given one-on-one instruction as you create your drum, providing you and your family with both a memorable experience and a unique souvenir to bring home. 

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Nakwakto Rapids

Located 200 miles northwest of Vancouver on British Columbia’s mainland across the water from northern Vancouver Island, Nakwakto Rapids were once home to the Nakwaxda'xw band of the Kwakiutl First Nation until their relocation to the town of Port Hardy in 1962. In the middle of the rapids—the “fastest navigable tidal currents in the world” according to Guinness World Records—sits Turret Rock, also known as Tremble Island as it’s said to tremble at high tide. The trees on the island have been nailed with signs displaying names of boats that have successfully navigated the rapids. Behind the gushing bottleneck lies a labyrinth of waterways so tranquil that it’s easy to see why the Nakwaxda'xw people felt protected here for centuries.

 

The Kwa'lilas Hotel in Port Hardy is a good base for exploring northern Vancouver Island

Kwa’lilas Hotel

Kwa’lilas is a Gwa’sala ‘Nakwaxda’xw word meaning “a place to sleep.” Located in the heart of Port Hardy just half a mile from the harbor, the Kwa’lilas Hotel was named by the Elders of the Gwa’sala ‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation with the hope that guests would experience a quiet slumber here after a day exploring Northern Vancouver Island. The 85-room, 4-star hotel is in fact a renovation of the former Port Hardy Inn, purchased in 2016 by the Ka’wat’si Economic Development General Partner Corporation LP (KEDC) so that they might have a way to share their history, culture, and passion for their territory. The hotel displays a curated collection of art that celebrates Gwa’sala Nakwaxda’xw traditions and stories in collaboration with local artists and designers. 

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Learn more about these and other highlights of Northern Vancouver Island at the Indigenous Experiences website.