10 storytellers of Turtle Island: Indigenous experiences you can learn from
April 28, 2023
| Author Shel Zolkewich
From quiet moments around the beading table to heart-racing adventures on the sub-Arctic landscape, Indigenous storytellers bring history and culture to life for the most transformative kind of travel experiences.
Our senses are awakened and our understanding grows deeper thanks to Indigenous Peoples evocative skills to share knowledge and their culture. When your heart needs transformation, seek out these stories and experiences when travelling through Manitoba.
Walk the wetlands
Tanis Thomas’s stunning copper cuff bracelets and earrings often include images inspired by nature—birch forests, Arctic sunsets and fish scales. Now the jewelry designer behind Boreal Workshop is adding another dimension to her offerings. The Nibi Miskwaabik Kwe (Water Copper Woman) Interpretive Tour incorporates cultural education, outdoor activity, a focus on Anishinaabe knowledge and the importance of water along the rare and protected space known as the Brokenhead Wetland Interpretive Trail. Plus, hikers go home with one of her beautiful pieces. Tours run May to October from 10-1 pm.
Get to know the Sayisi Dene
Perhaps the least known of all of Manitoba’s Indigenous Peoples, the Sayisi Dene have a story to tell. Florence Hamilton’s people were once nomadic, following the barren-land caribou across Canada’s north in a time before lines were drawn on a map. Based in Churchill, Hamilton’s tour company, Dene Routes, offers walking tours and presentations to inspire hope and healing by sharing her Dene heritage that was nearly lost. Through a tanned caribou hide, handmade tools, beadwork, and journals written in the Dene language, she lets her participants touch a part of her culture.
Taste an Indigenous summer
Is there anything sweeter than a Manitoba strawberry? Perhaps a multi-course, strawberry-themed dining experience set in a strawberry patch. That’s the Prairie Berry experience, where guests explore the farm just outside of Winnipeg near Glenlea before sitting down to a menu designed and prepared by French Canadian and Indigenous chefs. Each dinner is a little different and might include bison, bannock and sweetgrass ice cream followed by a drumming ceremony, hoop dance or teachings of Indigenous culture.
From hurt to healing
The National Indigenous Residential School Museum on Long Plain First Nation in the city of Portage la Prairie is where artifacts and documents create a memorial to those who forcibly attended schools across Canada. What’s more important are the stories they tell. There is plenty of hurt within these walls, but there are also rays of hope as the sharing of those stories help survivors with their healing journeys. On special occasions, visitors will hear directly from survivors as they recount their days at school, underscoring the museum’s vision as a place where people can learn, share, heal and move forward with a greater understanding.
Find your artistic heart
Those new to carving will start out full of doubt, but they quickly find their groove thanks to the warm encouragement and gentle guidance from soapstone master Fredrick Spence. Workshops hosted by Spence Custom Carving start as art making but quickly grow into shared storytelling as polar bears, birds and bison begin to take shape in soapstone. Hear how Spence earned his Indigenous name and surprise yourself by chipping away to reveal your creative talent.
Leroy Whitmore likes to refer to his company as the tiny tour company with the big heart. Tiny it may be, but the payoffs with Sub-Arctic Explorers are anything but. As Manitoba’s only Inuit-run tour company, a day around Churchill with Whitmore promises that personal connection that travelers crave. There’s time to share a story along the way while searching for birds and wildlife with Whitmore. Be sure to hop out of his truck, breathe in the salty air and take in the scenes and stories that only an Indigenous person from the sub-Arctic can provide.
Taste an Indigenous feast
With a fresh facelift for 2023, Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg continues to stay true to its mission to reconnect guests with Indigenous culture and food while being mindful and supportive of the community. Feast is a pillar in the West End of Winnipeg, welcoming everyone from elders and those seeking a hot meal to members of the Supreme Court of Canada. Christa Bruneau-Guenther is the home-cook-turned-owner and head chef who continues to carry her message forward as a guest judge on national cooking shows and speaker at many culinary Indigenous conferences and events.
Beading around the big table
At Borealis Beading, visitors are invited to explore two-needle beading, quilt-making and finger weaving through workshops held in the traditional circle style. Beginners can stitch a simple flower onto a cloth tobacco bag while experienced beaders can tackle a leather medicine bag, mitts or moccasins—all while stories are shared around the big table. Flashes of colour and bold blooms are the hallmarks of Métis beadwork and no place is more alive than at artist Melanie Gamache’s workshop in Ste Genevieve. In summer, Gamache will also lead visitors around her yard and teach about native flora and their medicinal properties.
Wonder in the Whiteshell
The shapes of humans and snakes, birds and turtles are all carefully arranged in moss-covered rocks on Canada’s Precambrian shield. Diane Maytwayashing knows these rocks well. The Anishinaabe knowledge keeper of Whiteshell Petroforms Authentic Indigenous Tours takes visitors on guided walks of the sacred site, sharing stories of the teachings and healings that continue to this day through ceremony and song. Visitors learn about the original name of the site—Manidoo-Abi—that loosely translates into ‘where the spirit sits.’
Adventures in dogsledding
The image of a dogteam from Wapusk Adventures racing through the sub-Arctic has become nearly as synonymous with a visit to Churchill as polar bears, beluga whales and northern lights. And there’s good reason for that. What started with the odd dogsled ride for visitors has grown into one of Canada’s most successful and longstanding Indigenous tourism experiences. Dave Daley is quick to point out that visitors don’t just come for a dogsled ride, they come for the experience. And that’s what they get, from a fireside chat that builds with the howling of enthusiastic dogs to a heart-racing ride in the North. In summer, his company also offers guided e-bike tours around the town and there is no family you’d rather hear stories from about life in Churchill.
About The Author
A journalist by trade and an adventurer at heart, my career has included stints as a reporter, magazine writer, editor, food stylist, television cook and digital marketer. I am always collecting stories about Manitoba, whether I’m on assignment or not.