Introduction to Aboriginal Cultures

Aboriginal Cultures in Canada

  • In 2011, 1.4 million people in Canada identified themselves as Aboriginal – approximately 4% of the Canadian population
  • There are three distinct groups of Aboriginal people in Canada – First Nations, Inuit, and Métis
    • First Nations is a broad term used to identify more than 600 diverse Nations across Canada. This includes Status (belonging to a Nation by blood-quantum) and non-Status (self identified First Nations by their family genealogy).
    • Métis comes from the word “to mix.” During the fur trade in the 1600 /1700’s traders had children with First Nations women – blending their two very distinct cultures. Métis culture includes the sash, jigging and traditions based around hunting, trapping, and gathering.
    • Inuit people have lived on the Arctic lands and waters of Northern Canada for thousands of years. Many of the traditions from living in the Arctic remain today.

Aboriginal Cultures in British Columbia

With more than 200 distinct First Nations calling it home, British Columbia is fortunate to be able to offer visitors the chance to immerse themselves in Aboriginal culture and history.

Click here to visit our interactive map of British Columbia’s Aboriginal cultural tourism experiences. 

Below is a brief introduction to Aboriginal cultures in BC to give you a better understanding of this ancient-but-still-thriving culture that visitors want to experience and learn first-hand.

  • First Nations people have lived in what is now known as British Columbia for many thousands of years; there is archeological evidence of villages and communities dating back approximately 10,000 years – many First Nations will say they have been on the land since “time immemorial.”
  • There are a wide range of ‘creation stories’ to intrigue and inform visitors.
  • Aboriginal culture expresses each community’s unique relationship with the land, waters and animals that inhabit them. For example, British Columbia’s topography is rugged and prior to modern means of transportation, difficult to traverse. This led to many relatively isolated First Nations communities each with their own culture, traditions and language/dialect – where we lived played an important role in how we lived.
  • This diversity creates a wealth of intriguing and inspiring experiences for visitors to enjoy.
  • 95% of British Columbia is on unceded Aboriginal lands, meaning the lands were never given (through Treaty) or earned (through war) to the Crown.
  • Unlike the rest of Canada where many treaties were signed with First Nations that gave incoming settlers rights to much of the land, in British Columbia very few treaties were signed. In more recent years, some Nations are working on or have settled treaties with the Crown (for example Nisga’a and Tsawwassen) while other Nations are not involved in treaty.

In the following video Sekyu Siyam, Chief Ian Campbell – Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation, explains how the Squamish language relates to their territory and where it fits into Canada’s language landscape.

“Overall, most First Nations, regardless of where they were located, had a connection to and respect for the earth, were communal in nature, practiced sacred spiritual ceremonies, and were oral‐based peoples who passed on our history through storytelling, pictographs, art, songs, and dances. While dancing, regalia, food, and many other things are an important expression of culture, they are not culture itself.”


Gray, Lynda. First Nations 101. Vancouver: Adaawx Press. 2008. 22.

While it is very important to note the different types of Aboriginal cultures and traditions in BC, it is also very important to understand the history of Aboriginal people in Canada. Through thick and thin, Aboriginal culture has survived. In the following section we summarize the Aboriginal history from initial contact of European settlers to the present date.


Totems in Alert Bay Big House

> U’mista Cultural Centre