Having grown up in Canada, it would be safe to assume that I learned a lot about Canadian history. I even graduated from university with a history major. But what I did learn about Canadian history was a single narrative. The narrative of the settlers who immigrated to what is now Canada and their early experiences on this land. However, what I did not learn about were the diverse and authentic peoples who have inhabited this land for thousands of years. These people, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples in Canada have an oral history that goes back as many generations as you can count.
Experiencing different cultures around the world is one of my favorite parts about travel. However, when you live somewhere, you don’t always spend much time learning about those around you. Well, I sure did not. 2021 saw Indigenous experiences come to the forefront of mainstream Canadian (and worldwide) media with the discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops residential school in my home province of British Columbia. (There has since been thousands more discovered across Canada.) I realized very quickly, that I knew very little about the experience of those who were forced from their homes to attend these schools or those who were taken away from their parents in what became known as the 60s scoop.
None of this history was taught in schools in the 90s and 2000s in Canada (However things are different now and both my children have learned more about Indigenous history at school than I ever did). I grew up 5 minutes from the Kwantlen First Nations Reserve, had friends who lived there, spent countless days there. But to me, they were just my friends, I did not recognize that their experiences could be different than mine.
Only very recently did I recognize that I spend a lot of time traveling outside of Canada to learn about other people and cultures but ZERO time in Canada learning about the diverse groups of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples in Canada. Instead of just seeing or making assumptions about how their lives must be like now, I was given the opportunity to experience firsthand, some authentic Indigenous experiences and spend more time listening.
Indigenous Experiences in Alberta
There are plenty of authentic Indigenous experiences around Alberta. There are restaurants, tour companies, accommodation providers as well as cultural centers. There are plenty of ways to learn about Indigenous culture, through a mixture of listening, watching, and participating. Because I often travel with my kids, the more hands-on the better. They love jumping right in, whether it is falling a tour guide into the forest, watching and then participating in a smudging session or enjoying a presentation. On our trip to Alberta, we experienced all of these.
Below I have put together our Itineray to give you an idea of what we experienced and how. You can take this itinerary and easily replicate it, or work these experiences into any upcoming travels in Alberta. Some of these experiences are seasonal (such as camping at Metis Crossing) but others run all year. Check with the tour providers as they are small local businesses. That will give you the most up to date information.
Day 1 Métis Crossing Cultural Centre: Arrows, Bison, Camping and More!
Métis Crossing is the first cultural interpretive centre in Alberta that is dedicated to sharing Metis culture. Metis Crossing was our first stop after we landed in Edmonton. We drove about 90 minutes from the airport. It was a pretty easy drive with little traffice. Métis Crossing offers guided cultural interpretive experiences, sharing the distinct Indigenous story of the Métis people in an interactive way. Mattias and I were invited to participate in their Walk in our Mocs experience, where our guide, Mackye took us down onto one of the river lots and showed us some of the ways the plants in the area were used as rope (Did you know stinging nettle stalks could be braided into strong ropes?), as well as plants that needed to be avoided and how to determine how fresh bear poop on the trail might be!
The rest of our Indigenous experience was learning the basics of bowhunting, how to ethically hunt (the best way to kill a buffalo would be a double lung shot) and we had a lot of fun trying to hit the targets.
After our activity, we had bison bannock burgers (from local bison) and walked over to our Trapper’s Tent for the night. Metis Crossing has had a campsite for a few years, it has tent sites, RV sites and glamping style canvas tents (with handy wooden stoves inside!). If you are road tripping in Alberta, this is a great place to stop as the land is stunning and the experiences are enriching. Children can wander around the original Metis homesteads, see the animals, and learn about the culture of the Metis peoples in the interpretive centre.
Getting Here: Métis Crossing is located 1.5 hours northeast of Edmonton and 10 minutes South of Smokey Lake on the Victoria Trail. The address for Métis Crossing is 17339 Victoria Trail, Smoky Lake, AB, T0A 3C0
Prices for Walk in Our Mocs: $49 adults, $40 youth/child (minimum age 6)
How to book: visit metiscrossing.com
Day 2 Edmonton Tour with Talking Rock Tours
Day 2 of our Indigenous experiences in Alberta had us driving to Edmonton to meet with Keith, a Metis geologist and the owner and guide at Talking Rock Tours. While most come to Edmonton for West Edmonton Mall, they miss out on a sacred place right inside the city. Keith shared his extensive knowledge of geology and explained how the river valley right inside Edmonton has been an important and sacred meeting place for over 10 000 years. We think of Western Canada as having such a young history, but there was so much more that came before the Europeans who settled on what was known as Turtle Island.
Keith offers an authentic Indigenous experience in Edmonton as he shares his local knowledge of geology, of history and of his push to gain more mainstream recognition for the Indigenous history of the region. He kept Mattias intrigued with his storytelling and taught us about smudging. We both got to take part in our first smudging as well. Without a guide, there is no way that any visitor (or even local) would be able to uncover the wealth of information that Keith provides.
The Edmonton River Valley Discovery Tour begins on the historic site of Fort Edmonton IV and its sacred burial grounds and cemetery near the Rossdale Power Plant. After learning about this burial ground, we headed up hilll to the last Fort Edmonton site on the legislature grounds. Keith then took us to a prominent geologic outcrop that showcases sediments above when dinosaurs once roamed, all the way to the more recent glacial lake deposits, when the last ice age retreated on the Great Plains for good. He showed us the ash from the Crater Lake Volcano that erupted over 7000 years ago! We then went to River Lot 11 and the Indigenous Art Park and had time to experience a sharing circle and some Indigenous music.
It is clear that Keith has a passion for protecting his history and sharing it with locals as well as visitors. After spending a few hours with Keith, I found myself constantly questioning why some simple changes could not be made to better celebrate and support the long history that surrounds Edmonton.
Things to note: The tour takes 2.5 to 3 hours depending on your pace and interest at each spot. Wear comfortable shoes as you will walk close to 5km on the route. It is mostly flat with a small uphill at the beginning to the Legislature.
How to Book: visit talkingrocktours.com
Day 3 Experience Jasper with a Métis Guide.
Driving to Jasper from Edmonton takes about 4 hours. The drive is mostly straight, but as the Rockies get larger and larger in the windshield the time seems to just fly by.
Joe from Jasper Tour Company is an outdoor enthusiast and animal lover. The best time to see these animals is morning and evening so keep that in mind. However, the views of Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake are stunning at any time of day! Our tour took place in the afternoon and we were NOT disappointed! Honestly, I wish we could have booked Joe for another day just because he was so much fun!
He picks wildlife out of the woods like it is nothing and gives you plenty of opportunities to enjoy them. He also taught us about bear safety, and about elk during the rut (which occurs in Septmeber). They can be very aggressive in teh fall and you want to make sure you give them lots of space (even WHEN IN your car).
Joe took the time to tell us lots of information about the local animals, teach us about horns and antlers and was incredibly engaging with Mattias. he is the perfect guide for anyone with kids! He is funny and engaging and was chatting with Mattias the eintire time, all the while filling his head with useful outdoor knowledge.
Joe knows all the best viewpoints and takes a great Instagram image! Do not be shy, ask him for a photo! He will have you jumping off rocks and running down the road in no time!
How to Book: visit jaspertourcompany.com
Warrior Women – Indigenous Stories and Songs
After dinner, we had the opportunity to meet with Matricia and Mackenzie, the voices behind Warrior Women. These two women love sharing stories and songs and feel called to share their voices and their drumming with the world. Their music is powerful, yet calming. When youa re in Jasper, seek out warrior women, they have fireside chats around the community to share their music with visitors to Jasper. It was the perfect way to end the day.
Where we Stayed: We had a cabin at Tekarra Lodge. You cannot beat the views!
Indigenous tourism has long been sought after by visitors to Canada. But only recently have Canadians been determined to listen and learn to Indigenous voices. There is a diverse culture that is alive and thriving across Canada. I feel privileged
Resources for Travel to Alberta
Rental Cars: Click Here
Travel Insurance: If you are coming to Alberta from outside of Canada you are going to what to make sure you have travel Insurance. While unlikely, just to see a doctor in the ER costs $850 and that does not involve ordering any tests. Canada is a very expensive country for medical care. You can check policy prices from World Nomads Insurance.
Things to Pack:
Headlamp – A headlamp came in handy when we were in Metis Crossing. Besides a few barn lights, the campground is quite dark. (perfect for star gazing however).
Base Layers – Even in September, the temperature change is a lot and you will want warmer layers in the morning and evenings. We wore winter weight Smartwool layers in the morning and evening and to sleep in in Metis Crossing.
Snacks – Especially if you have kids, make sure you have some good car snacks, it is much easier to keep the kids going, whether it is walking or driving if they are fed and hydrated!
Reusable Water Bottle – We want to tread as lightly as we can. By bringing our own reusable water bottles, plastic bottles do not need to even be made!
Comfortable Shoes – You will be doing a decent amount of walking during your trip. Nothing extreme that a good pair of runners cant handle!
Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.