June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. A time to celebrate, recognise and reflect on the history, culture, and contributions of Indigenous people from coast to coast to coast. Ottawa is a fitting place to immerse yourself in authentic Algonquin Anishinaabe culture from the region and to explore First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures beyond through a variety of tours and events.
For thousands of years before French explorer Samuel de Champlain passed through what is now Ottawa in the early 1600s, Indigenous Peoples had been living, meeting and trading in the area. The Algonquin Anishinaabe called the region “Odawa” which means “to trade”—the word from which Ottawa is derived. And Indigenous Peoples taught European settlers vital skills such as how to navigate the mighty Ottawa River, survive the cold winter season and use maple sap to produce delicious maple syrup. Here is a roundup of how to explore these and other fascinating stories about Indigenous Peoples of Canada in the many attractions, tours and events in Canada’s capital:
Canadian Museum of History: Canada’s most-visited museum, designed by Métis architect Douglas Cardinal, features countless symbols that reflect Canada’s landscape. The museum’s Grand Hall is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles (as well as spectacular views of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River). Look up at the domed ceiling at the end of the hall to see Morning Star, a painting by Alex Janvier. Known as one of Canada’s great Indigenous artists, Janvier was a member of what was called the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation (commonly referred to as the “Indian Group of Seven”).
Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre: The NAC is home to the first national Indigenous Theatre department in the world! All presented works are based on, performed by, or created by Indigenous artists. Each season is planned around a specific theme and features both well-known and emerging artists who perform in English, French and multiple Indigenous languages.
Canadian Museum of Nature: The Canada Goose Arctic Gallery of the museum presents interactive exhibits, multimedia and fascinating artifacts about the natural history and human connections with Canada’s North. The museum consulted with Indigenous groups and individuals from the region, such as the Inuit, to weave their perspectives throughout the gallery. Some of the highlights include: the Northern Voices Gallery, a rotating special exhibition space curated by Northerners; a multimedia installation called Beyond Ice, a co-creation with the National Film Board of Canada, which features projections of Inuit art onto real blocks of ice that visitors can touch; and a giant mural designed by an Inuk artist which colourfully presents key aspects of Inuit culture.
Indigenous Experiences: brings Indigenous history and culture to life through engaging and authentic programming. Their main site is aptly named Mādahòkì Farm which means “to share the land” in the Algonquin Anishnaabe language. Visit this indoor-outdoor location just southwest of downtown Ottawa for popular seasonal events which feature traditional music and dance performances, storytelling, interactive workshops and culinary options. Visit with the 7 endangered Ojibwe spirit horses on-site and shop at the Indigenous marketplace for food, art, and crafts.
National Aboriginal Veterans Monument: Located in Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument honours the contributions of Indigenous Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations. More than 7,000 First Nations members served in the First and Second World Wars as well as the Korean War. An unknown number of Inuit, Métis and other Indigenous people also participated.
Shop and eat – The Assembly of 7 Generations: a youth-led non-profit organization, is set to open a boutique named Adaawewigamig (meaning “The place of selling or trading” in Algonquin Anishinaabe) on Sunday, June 19 in Ottawa’s eclectic ByWard Market neighbourhood, while Beandigen Café in the Glebe neighbourhood sells coffee, jewellery, crafts, and food options such as bannock.