Things you need to know

You may wonder where the term ‘Indian’ came from when referring to First Nations people, or how many First Nations reserves are located in BC, or when it’s appropriate to attend ceremonies and events, or even about the expectations when attending ceremonies and events. This section will answer those questions and more.

Indian or Aboriginal?

The term ‘Indian’ is not considered appropriate in Canada. In 1492 Christopher Columbus, searching for a westward route to the Orient landed in the Caribbean – nearly half a world away from his destination. Columbus, believing he was in the Indies (as Europeans called the area of China, Japan, and India), mistakenly named the people ‘Indians’. The name stuck and came to be applied to all Aboriginal people of the Americas.

While the word Indian is still used in some parts of the world, in recent years, the peoples of Canada have preferred to be called Aboriginal people (which includes First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) or First Nations when referring to a specific Nation/person.

200 Nations + Métis

British Columbia is home to more than 200 First Nations, as well as Métis, each with its own unique language/dialect and traditions. Most of these communities have or exploring opportunities to share their culture with visitors.

Authentic Indigenous

Each year, gift shops and galleries in British Columbia sell more than $100 million of Indigenous-designed art or giftware. Our studies have shown that only 20% of these items are designed or produced by Aboriginal people in Canada. Tell your clients to look for the Authentic Indigenous brand when purchasing Indigenous art – it is an assurance both of that you are getting true, verifiable, Indigenous art and the original artist has been fairly compensated.



Most people regardless of nationality, value their privacy. Aboriginal people are no exception! Common politeness dictates that photos of individuals are not taken without first asking permission. As well, photos of people are typically not permitted if they are intended for sale to others.

Attendance at Community Events and Ceremonies

Ceremonies and events are a frequent and exciting aspect of Aboriginal culture. Visitors arriving in a community will be invited to attend if it is considered appropriate. It is respectful to inquire about appropriate protocols if you accept this honoured invitation.

Archeological Sites

The long history of Aboriginal people in British Columbia ensures that there is a wealth of petroglyphs, pictographs, and other archeological evidence to be found. However, each community decides which, if any, of these sacred sites can be shared with visitors. Include AtBC Authentic Aboriginal tourism operators in your itineraries to be sure the experience is approved and market-ready. And, of course, these treasures are for viewing only.

Leave No Trace

Aboriginal people have always respected and nurtured Mother Earth and we ask that our visitors share this important stewardship role with us.

Totems in Alert Bay Big House

> U’mista Cultural Centre