Thunderbird Park Totem Pole in Victoria, BC
About Greater Victoria

Indigenous Culture

Land Acknowledgement

Destination Greater Victoria is honoured to be based on the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən-speaking and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples, whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

Traditional Territory

lək̓ʷəŋən traditional territory is the home of modern day Victoria and Esquimalt. As you weave your way through Victoria’s historic streets, keep your eyes peeled for the Seven Signs of the lək̓ʷəŋən, which represent culturally significant sites of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. These bronze casts of original cedar carvings, carved by Master Carver Bruce Dick and his son Clarence Dick, stand 2.5m tall and represent the spindle whorls used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. These sites have played an important role in lək̓ʷəŋən culture where lək̓ʷəŋən People’s have hunted, gathered, fished, traded, loved, laughed, and played for thousands of years.

To learn the lək̓ʷəŋən People’s story in their own words, click here.

A group of Indigenous people paddling in a canoe in Victoria, BC

Background

The vibrant and ongoing heritage and legacies of Indigenous Peoples live on in Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island through ceremonies, potlatches, dances, art and masks. An Indigenous experience is an enriching and engaging addition to any Greater Victoria visit.

Bringing the lək̓ʷəŋən Language Back to Life

həlitxʷ tθə lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ

The lək̓ʷəŋən speaking People’s have been working to reawaken their language since 2018. The Songhees Wellness centre works diligently with the local Indigenous Community to preserve and grow the use of the lək̓ʷəŋən language. Language classes are often paired with Knowledge Keepers who share wisdom and traditional skills to students. Students learn a unique version of the International Phonetic Alphabet, known as the lək̓ʷəŋən Phonetic Alphabet, which has now been developed for typing lək̓ʷəŋən on digital devices.

To learn more about həlitxʷ tθə lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ click here.

History

The Songhees, Esquimalt, WSANEC, Tsartlip, Tseycum, Pauquachin, Scia’new, Tsawout and T’Sou-ke Nations all have long called Southeastern Vancouver Island home.

Prior to European arrival in the late 18th Century, a Songees fortified village existed at Finlayson Point in Beacon Hill Park. After the establishment of Fort Victoria in 1854, the village was forcibly moved across the harbour into what is now Victoria West. Currently the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations reserves lie at the Southwestern edge of Victoria, bordering each other and the Town of View Royal. With their traditional lands lying northwest of Victoria, reserves of the T’Souke and Scia’new Nations lie along the Sooke Basin while the Tseycum, Tsartlip, Tsawout and Pauquachin Nations are located east of Victoria along the Saanich Peninsula.

lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers

The talented lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers Masks bring the vibrant lək̓ʷəŋən culture to life through dance. You can find the lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers at significant events around the region. The 25 strong group ranges in age from 8 to 79 years old and have performed for Indigenous Groups from around the world, Queen Elizabeth II, the Lieutenant Governor, the Prime Minister, and many more.

To learn more about the lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers click here.

Masks

Indigenous masks depict different symbols used in the stories of a Nation. The masks carved for a Nation are used for ceremonial purposes. The most common symbols on masks and totems are the Thunderbird, killer whale, frog, salmon, beaver, bear, wolf, raven, sun and moon.

Indigenous Culture in Greater Victoria

Nahnum

The nahnum (fire circle) is a gathering place where stories and teachings are shared. The circular seating and fire are traditions that started in Nations’ winter homes, where members of all generations would sit and talk with elders. More formal gatherings are held to discuss business matters. During those meetings, a talking stick is used to indicate which person will speak. Gatherings are still practiced today, although they may not be around a fire.

Potlach

The potlach is a sacred ceremony and the societal underpinning of Indigenous culture. Through this ceremony, Indigenous Peoples unite families in marriage, name children, right wrongs, pass on rights and responsibilities to the next generation and share wealth. From 1884 to 1951, the potlach was outlawed by the Canadian government as part of an attempt to destroy Indigenous culture and force the assimilation of its people. Masks and regalia were confiscated, and priceless historical treasures were destroyed. Only in recent years have the traditions come to life once again, through the memories of elders and the efforts of present-day Indigenous Peoples.

Powwow

A powwow is a celebration of Indigenous culture that features traditional dance, music, food and regalia. As both ceremonial and social events, powwows hold a spiritual significance and continue customs passed through generations. Today, Powwows are often public gatherings that welcome people from all communities as a way to celebrate and share cultural traditions.

Storytelling

Indigenous culture is based on oral history and elders are responsible for sharing the rich stories of the ancestors. Elders are the Knowledge Keepers, an important role for a culture that traditionally had no written history. Indigenous Peoples are keenly aware that, as times change, they could lose stories about their history. Now, with permission, storytelling gatherings are recorded for archival purposes.

Going Local Blog: Seven Indigenous Businesses You Can Support

Experiencing Indigenous culture is an eye-opening part of every Victoria, BC visit. With Coast Salish murals decorating downtown architecture, historic and modern totem poles standing tall throughout our city, and Indigenous businesses throughout – we have a strong First Nations presence that we are very proud of. In Victoria, we are honoured and grateful to be working, playing, and learning together on the traditional territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən-speaking Coast Salish peoples, whose relationships with the land continue to shape our region today. 

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A person looks out over the water in Victoria, BC

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Destination Greater Victoria is honoured to be based on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples of the Songhees Nation and the Esquimalt Nation, whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.