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Experience the 2019 Indigenous Cultural Festival

Posted on June 12, 2019

Long before the first European settlers arrived in Victoria, this region was home to Indigenous people. By taking great care to share knowledge through the gathering and telling of stories, the Coast Salish people of southern Vancouver Island have ensured their heritage, history and traditions continue to be practiced, remembered and celebrated.  

Indigenous culture remains a large part of our city's identity today. 2014 marked the creation of a new celebration: the Victoria Indigenous Cultural Festival. Hosted by Indigenous Tourism BC in partnership with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, this annual event increases community engagement with the diverse experiences offered by local Indigenous culture. These include dance, story-telling, carving, singing and food. 

From June 21-23, enjoy three days filled with colour, sound, education and appreciation of the wonders of the local Indigenous culture, held on the Royal BC Museum Mezzanine and along Victoria's Inner Harbour. Enrich your knowledge of the Coast Salish culture and immerse yourself into the free festivities. 

Melody Charlie
Image by Melody Charlie


Meet Artisans

Opening each day at 11 a.m., the Artisans Market Place is your opportunity to find authentic indigenous artwork, and connect with the artists who devote themselves to traditional art while incorporating a modern twist.


Try Authentic Cuisine

A foodies heaven, come to sample some traditional dishes and cuisine. With a diverse, growing environment on Vancouver Island bordered by the Salish Sea, the flavours of the traditional Indigenous cuisine will not disappoint. Devour BBQ salmon burgers, try fry bread and fill yourself with traditional clam chowder. 

Image by Melody Charlie of Songhees Nation Foodtruck


Experience Tradition

The Indigenous Festival kicks off with a canoe crossing welcome. Start each day with an acknowledgement and smudging ceremony. In the afternoons watch the traditional techniques of drum making and cedar weaving during live demonstrations in the Lekwungen tent. 
Take in the traditional attire, choreography and interpretation of stories from generations past with dancers from many Nations performing in the Royal BC Museum Plaza.

2018 Indigenous Cultural Festival Melody Charlie
Image by Melody Charlie


Immerse yourself

Connect with the first peoples of the island and partake in a cedar weaving workshop. Take a totem pole tour to discover the stories and history behind the poles that decorate our city or enjoy a canoe tour embarking from the Songhees Cultural Center.

2018 Indigenous Festival Taylor Kennedy
Image by Taylor Kennedy


Three Indigenous Experiences in Victoria

beyond the Festival

If you can't make it to this year's festival, here are three ways to experience Indigenous culture in Victoria year round!

Experience the Our Living Languages Exhibit at the Royal BC Museum

For a comprehensive account of human activity on Vancouver Island over thousands of years, spend a day at the Royal BC Museum immersed in the human and natural history of British Columbia. The Our Living Languages exhibit is an interactive exhibition that celebrates the resilience and diversity of First Nations languages in the face of change. When you visit, you'll learn what First Nations communities around BC are doing to help their languages survive and flourish.

While you're at the museum, make sure to spend some time exploring the First Peoples Galleries as well! They're interactive and informative.

Royal BC Museum Totem Poles
Image by @post_photography via Instagram


See all of Victoria's Totem Poles

A totem is defined as an object, such as an animal or plant that serves as the emblem or symbol of a kinship group or person. First Nations cultures carve wooden poles to display these totems. Each animal carved represents a creature associated with family history, notable ancestors or events which displayed the ancestors' spiritual powers or magical privileges of the families.

The best way to experience a totem pole is in person. Photos just don't do them justice. We recommend that you "carve" out some time to check out the beautiful totems around Victoria on your next Visit. 

Did you know? Each different totem belongs to the particular family or person carving it; in other words, the carver cannot use totems belonging to families outside his own.

2018 Indigenous Cultural Festival Totem Pole

One of the finest collections in the world can be found in Thunderbird Park, just behind the Royal BC Museum. As well, Beacon Hill Park is home to the world's tallest, free-standing totem pole carved from a single log.

Fact: Alert Bay on Northern Vancouver Island is home to the tallest totem pole in the world, at 53 metres (two parts) and features 22 figures, requiring binoculars to see the top.


Check out Authentic Indigenous Art

Victoria offers plenty opportunities to see authentic indigenous art. A bike ride in Beacon Hill Park will take you to the tallest totem pole in Victoria. Swans Brewpub is also a great place to grab a bite while taking in Indigenous art. 

The Legacy Art Gallery in downtown Victoria also contains a large collection of Indigenous art pieces. Visit the Greater Victoria Art Gallery for its Emily Carr exhibit. Carr is an artist best known for her paintings of Vancouver Island’s rainforests and totemic Indigenous sculptures. 

2018 Victoria Indigenous Cultural Festival
Legacy Art Gallery photo by Deddeda Stemler


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