The Lower Mainland is the traditional territory of local First Nations including the Squamish, Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, Stó:lō and other Indigenous nations.
Vancouver itself is located on the unceded Coast Salish Territory of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam Nations. The entire region is rich in their culture and history.
To learn about Canada’s past regarding its First Nations people, and ways to move forward, we encourage everyone to read the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its recommendations. See the TRC.ca website for details.
Local First Nations
Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland are on the unceded territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Musqueam, Hwlitsum, Katzie, Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem, Matsqui, Qayqayt, Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, and Stó:lō Nations.
Below are some of the best places to experience First Nations art, culture and history in Vancouver. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a start.
Vancouver Indigenous Events
- Coastal First Nations Dance Festival – an Indigenous dance festival in late February or early March.
- Dundarave Festival of Lights – the winter festival features decorated Christmas trees as well as live entertainment on a number of Saturdays. Around the first Saturday in December is the Dundarave Nativity Paddle Songs event which features Indigenous performers.
- Hoobiyee – celebrations of the Nisga’a New Year. The event includes traditional storytelling, singing and dancing at the PNE Forum in February.
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30th is a day to remember and reflect on the injustices regarding Indigenous residential schools and other historic injustices against Canada’s First Nations peoples. (See below for more details.)
- National Indigenous Peoples Day – June 21st is a day to celebrate Indigenous culture in Canada. Events take place on that day and during that week at various locations across the Lower Mainland.
- Osprey Festival – a small nature and Indigenous-themed event. The festival celebrates the life of Chief Dan George, who was a famous Canadian actor, activist and local First Nation’s leader.
- Sasquatch Days – a festival in Harrison Hot Springs. The event includes war canoe races, a salmon BBQ and local aboriginal cultural performances in June.
- Talking Stick Festival – a First Nations festival featuring indigenous art and performances in February.
Vancouver Indigenous-Related Attractions
- Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art – an exceptional place for First Nations art.
- Museum of Anthropology – a museum at UBC featuring First Nations art. Totems and other anthropological artifacts and information are also present.
- Stanley Park’s Totem Poles – a collection of Indigenous art in the southeast corner of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
- Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre – located in the Upper Village at Whistler, the centre includes a Lil’wat Istken and Squamish Longhouse, theatre, archival museum and contemporary gallery.
First Nations Powwows
There are also various powwows and other First Nations events throughout the Lower Mainland. The Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack and Squamish Nation Youth Powwow on the North Shore in the summer are two such examples. Both are open to the public.
Click Lower Mainland Powwows for more information.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation takes place on September 30th. It’s a somber day for Canadians to reflect on the country’s racist history and the tragedy of the residential school system and its impact on Indigenous communities.
The following video is of an event that took place outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 30th in 2021 (which was the first year that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was recognized and commemorated in Canada).
The event in the video was called Xweýene:msta:m ?əkwəsqwel, seýeḿ which means to “call to witness and listen to respected one”. The event featured a traditional song and dance performance as well as messages from local First Nations’ leaders.
For more on First Nations events in the Lower Mainland and throughout BC, check out the Indigenous Tourism BC website.
Other articles that may be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver History and Culture
- Festivals & Events Calendar
- Vancouver’s 100 Best Places
- National Indigenous Peoples Day
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
- Lower Mainland Pow Wows