This article was created as part of a sponsored content partnership with Postmedia, appearing in the National Post and Montreal Gazette, and was written by author Debbie Olsen for Tourism Calgary.
Calgary's Indigenous Experiences
Calgary's Indigenous Experiences
Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples gathered at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, which is now in the heart of Calgary.
Today, they’re sharing their stories with visitors to this vibrant Alberta city — to experience its electric energy and diverse culture through the eyes of the people who have known it longest.
“There are many opportunities to enjoy Indigenous culture in the Calgary area,” says Tim Patterson, owner of Zucmin Guiding and vice chair of Indigenous Tourism Alberta. “Having an Indigenous experience lets you see the city from a different perspective. Indigenous People are not just part of the past; we’re still present today.”
There are numerous Indigenous experiences in and around Calgary to discover. It can be as simple as exploring a shop that sells Indigenous art such as Moonstone Creation Native Gallery, which carries jewellery, moccasins, beadwork, and other items made by local artisans, and offers Indigenous art classes. Located in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood, this unique shop shares First Nations stories, history and culture through art and art classes.
Art is a powerful expression of culture, says Yvonne Jobin, founder and owner of the gallery and a member of the Cree First Nation. "I've always been adamant about helping to promote and preserve culture through the arts, through all of the classes, and the beautiful things we create," says Jobin.
There are several Indigenous tour companies that operate in and around the city. Many Chief Tours offers a Mohkinstsis walking tour that explores Calgary’s St. Patrick's Island along the Bow River. This guided tour takes guests to a culturally significant area in the city and teaches them about Blackfoot culture and history. It’s the story of a resilient people who have overcome many challenges to once again thrive in their traditional territory.
“Calgary is a natural gathering spot, and it has been for thousands of years,” explains Tarra Wright Many Chief, owner and operator of Many Chief Tours and a member of the Blood Tribe and the Blackfoot Confederacy. “Years ago, I visited St. Patrick’s Island with a Blackfoot Elder. He told me the creation story and talked about the long history of the Blackfoot People at the crossing of the river. That experience inspired me to start Many Chief Tours so that I could share a more holistic picture of the land and the city.”
In the Blackfoot language Siksiká, the Calgary area is known as Mohkínstsis akápiyoyis, meaning "elbow many houses," reflecting the fact that the area has long been a gathering place for people of many different cultures. In the Nakoda language of the Stoney people, the Calgary area is called Wichispa Oyade, which also means “elbow town.”
Many Chief says that exploring Calgary on an Indigenous tour is like seeing the city with a new set of eyes. One of her most memorable walking tours was with two sisters who had just found out they were Métis. Their family had hidden their Indigenous ancestry and the two adult women had only just discovered they had Indigenous ancestors.
The walking tour helped them reconnect with their ancestors. “It was an incredible experience helping them reconnect with their culture,” Many Chief says. “I’m on my own journey learning and reconnecting with my traditional language. My tours showcase what Indigenous pride and culture looks like.”
Making an Indigenous experience part of your travel plans provides an opportunity to see the city and the surrounding area from a new perspective, reflecting on the past and looking towards the future.
Five can’t-miss Indigenous experiences in and around Calgary
- Enjoy a Mohkinstsis walking tour with Many Chief Tours.
- Shop for Indigenous art and crafts or take a class at Moonstone Creation Native Gallery.
- Visit the Elbow River Camp at the Calgary Stampede.
- Explore the First Nations Encampment at Heritage Park.
- Visit Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.
- Stay at Grey Eagle Resort and Casino on the Tsuut’ina First Nation in southwest Calgary.