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Topped by a 40-foot high totem pole, Skwachays Lodge in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, is unlike any other boutique hotel. All 18 rooms are individually designed, and while modern conveniences are included, each is a distinct gallery of local indigenous art.
The Moon Suite, for example, showcases a drawing of the moon on the ceiling, while the Northern Lights Suite features a stunning bear sculpture and a vibrant mural of pow-wow dancers under the Aurora Borealis.
An elder is available to lead guests in ceremonies in both the on-site smudge room — where sacred plants are burned to purify a person’s body and spirit — and the sweat lodge, a domed structure filled with heated rocks used for ceremonial steam baths and prayer.
“There’s something magical about this place,” said Maggie Edwards, general manager of Skwachays Lodge. “People are just wowed when they come on the property.”
Opened in 2014, Skwachays Lodge is a prime example of a growing segment of travel: indigenous tourism that’s obliging and accessible but also authentic and culturally appropriate.
“Indigenous tourism is very important to indigenous peoples,” said Johnny Edmonds, secretariat coordinator for World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, an indigenous-led advocacy nonprofit. “It provides them with the opportunity for self-determination and is typically associated with activity in which indigenous people are directly involved through control and/or by enabling their culture to serve as the essence of the attraction.”
Authenticity is paramount. Groups that ensure genuine experiences include Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (ATBC), Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council, Indigenous New Zealand and American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. All have websites that provide itinerary planning and booking tools for various indigenous tourism experiences. For example, ATBC may suggest travelers stay at Skwachays Lodge, dine at Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro and kayak with Takaya Tours.
“When people say they want an authentic travel experience, there’s nothing truer than those of indigenous origin,” said Kate Rogers, executive director of travel, tourism and hospitality for Tartan Group, which handles media for ATBC. “They are the original guides; they know the land better than anyone else.”
Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbiawww.aboriginalbc.com
American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Associationwww.aianta.org
Indigenous New Zealandwww.inz.maori.nz
Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Councilwww.waitoc.com
World Indigenous Tourism Alliancewww.winta.org