Credit: Granville

Every city has its distinct culture, and Vancouver’s is all the richer for its diversity

We might share Diwali treats with friends at the office, or take the kids to Chinatown for the annual dragon parade. Even if we don’t take part in these public displays of multiculturalism, each one of us knows deep inside that we’d be just a little bit poorer if it weren’t for our city’s rich mix of cultures and traditions.

But broach the topic of aboriginal culture, and you scratch a wound still raw from unhealed historical injustices. With more than 100,000 of the province’s residents still governed by an Indian Act originally intended explicitly to extinguish a culture, is it any wonder that First Nations get a little testy at the prospect of sharing their traditions with the rest of us?

Yet that’s exactly what aboriginal tourism purports to do. In a country where the potlatch was officially outlawed until 1951, First Nations are now expected to happily perform this and other cultural traditions for paying tourists.

When Andrew Findlay set out to research his story on the topic, he found advocates who embrace the opportunity to revive and celebrate traditions that were all but extinguished by Canada’s formal policy of assimilation. Many also welcome the prospect of developing a tourism industry that promises jobs and money to communities long disenfranchised by the economic engine of industrial development.

Yet even supporters of aboriginal tourism can’t help but consider questions of authenticity and appropriation. Is a native dance performed for tourists any more authentic than a bobble-head dashboard hula dancer? Can tourists legitimately claim to share any part of traditions born from centuries of living in harmony with West Coast geography?

I’d like to think aboriginal tourism does promise a genuine bridging of cultures, that it has the power to tap a spiritual sense of place shared by anyone who feels a personal attachment to the West Coast. No, aboriginal culture is not my culture; I wouldn’t presume any claim of ownership. But efforts to nurture it and celebrate it, to bring it to the light of day, help me understand just a little better what it means to live in Vancouver and B.C.

I remember 15 year ago being thrilled when a cheap take-out sushi joint opened on West Broadway near Cambie. It was the first I had seen, and my wife and I would gladly drive across town to pick up a box of nigiri and maki. Today you can’t walk a block without tripping over a sushi restaurant. In “Vancouver’s Finest Sushi,” Isabelle Groc takes the guesswork out of finding the perfect sushi destination, with reviews of five of Vancouver’s finest. —David Jordan, Granville magazine editor


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