In a first for Canadian First Nations, members of the Ktunaxa Nation near Cranbrook have turned a former residential school into an attraction that grows tourism revenue for the community. St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino has been welcoming guests for relaxing getaways since early this century. (Photo courtesy of St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino)

Golf, spa and relax in Aboriginal B.C.

First Nations communities mix culture with mainstream activities for all

You don’t have to rely on mainstream brand names for your luxury vacations.

A wealth of Indigenous experiences exist in British Columbia that give you all you desire from a sophisticated getaway — and the added benefit of an education in culture and nature.

Here are five vacation properties — all operated by members of B.C.’s Aboriginal communities — that include a range of spa, golf, and gourmet experiences. Each one is ideal for a fall getaway that you’ll want to do now.

St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino

What the Ktunaxa Nation has undertaken on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains will move and amaze you.

In the 1980s, elders of the community determined it was time to reclaim their identity and to do so through the building that symbolized misery for many.

They took control of the former site of the St. Eugene Mission School, identified as “the first comprehensive Indian ‘Industrial and Residential’ school to be built in the Canadian West,” and steadfastly transformed it into one of the most beautiful, and inspiring, holiday choices in eastern B.C.

The St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino, which has been operating for 15 years, features a championship golf course, luxury spa treatments, and three dining options (including BBQ selections from the property’s tantalizing smokehouse).

On the St. Mary River, the resort is a four-hour drive from Calgary, the closest big city.

Beginning in May 2018, St. Eugene will offer an Aboriginal experience package, with overnight accommodation in a Tipi Camp along the St. Mary River. The multi-day package will also incorporate tours of the Ktunaxa territory, cultural activities and storytelling around the fire with Ktunaxa elders.

In taking control of their destiny, the Ktunaxa have provided everyone with a destination that allows for the chance to indulge in relaxing activities amid a beautiful mountain backdrop.

Address: 7777 Mission Road, Cranbrook

Packages: St. Eugene features numerous packages that include room nights, spa, golf, and dining options. There are also wedding and event promotions available. Check the Packages page of the property’s website for details.

Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort

Members of the Ktunaxa Nation also operate the Ainsworth Hot Springs, known for the invigorating experience of soaking in the waters of its namesake.

The warm, soothing mineral waters are called nupika wu’u, or spirit water, in the language of the Ktunaxa. Today, you can dip into the ancient cave, where the temperature of the hot springs reaches 47 Celsius degrees (108 Fahrenheit), or the resort’s pool, which cools the water to 35 Celsius (96 Fahrenheit).

The resort has nine suite options, including large five-guest accommodations that families will appreciate, and several rooms with views of the Purcell Mountains and Kootenay Lake, whose name derives from “Ktunaxa.”

Amplify your experience with a treatment in the Spirit Water Spa. You can have an application of clay or mineral mud to help detoxify the body during your massage.

Intriguing dining options in the Ktunaxa Grill include bannock bruschetta, smoked elk carpaccio and skillet-roasted mussels.

Owned by the Yaqan Nukiy, a Ktunaxa band, the Ainsworth Hot Springs offers a marvellous getaway to the B.C. Interior that blends luxury, authentic culture, and natural splendour in one retreat.

Address: 3609 Balfour-Kaslo-Galena Bay Highway, Ainsworth Hot Springs

Rates: If you just want to dip into the spirit water, you can do so for $12.50 per adult. Massage treatments start at $40 for a half-hour. Room rates start at $179 for a weekend night in autumn. Visit the property’s website for full details.

Quaaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort

One of the most unique tourism undertakings you’ll learn about began in early 2017 on the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band territory.

Elders selected a cottonwood tree to be cut down, honoured it in a once-in-a-generation ceremony, and then assisted the community in carving it into two canoes that will help grow tourism revenue.

At Quaaout Lodge & Spa at Talking Rock Golf Resort, you’ll find out more about the progress of the canoes and perhaps even be able to take part in building them.

The property also has luxury accommodations, a spa that incorporates First Nations’ design and decor, and a fine-dining restaurant. The golf course, which celebrates its 10th year in 2017, runs alongside Little Shuswap Lake.

In the province’s Thompson-Okanagan region, Quaaout Lodge tempts you with pleasurable activities that are just a 45-minute drive northeast of Kamloops.

Address: 1663 Little Shuswap Lake Road, Chase

Rates: Stay-and-Play packages per couple start at $328 for the fall and include accommodations for one night and one round of golf each. The Le7Ke Spa provides a variety of treatment options, including massages that begin at $89 per hour. Weekend room rates for the fall season start at $129 per night. View the property’s website for full details.

Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort

Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort has won recognition for the same thing that brought fame to the Okanagan Valley years ago: wine. Very good wine.

Home to NK’Mip Cellars, North America’s first Aboriginal-owned winery, the resort has grown into a huge vacation complex.Taking advantage of its location in the only desert in B.C., Spirit Ridge has golf, spa, and dining activities that stay true to its sense of place.

It also features a museum, the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, that educates visitors on the First Nations people of the Okanagan.

Two large swimming pools will help you cool off while you relax with a glass of wine from the region — or the property’s own cellar.

Tip: Be sure to try Dreamcatcher, which won silver in the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships. It’s a lovely white wine made with a blend of four grapes, Riesling predominant among them.

Address: 1200 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos

Packages: Spirit Ridge’s Romance Package includes a one-night stay with three-course dinner and a bottle of wine. For rates and details on other packages, visit the property’s website.

Esk’et Tiny House

A “tiny house,” as defined by the Esk’etemc Nation, is a structure that contains “much of what you find in a regular house, but on a smaller scale, using every inch of space wisely and effectively.”

Located in the province’s Cariboo Region, Esk’et Tiny House includes a 280-square-foot home with two lofts and a roof shaped like a salmon, and a 120-square-foot cabin that has a 40-square-foot deck and room for three guests.

The larger of the two “tiny houses” features a full kitchen, bathroom with shower, a gas fireplace, and a hot tub.

Created by Robert Johnson, a carpenter and member of the Esk’etemc Nation, these small, visionary spaces will amaze with the enormity of their engineering achievements.

Address: 1197 Wagon Road, Alkali Lake

Bed-and-Breakfast stays: The large home (nicknamed “sqlelten”, or “salmon”) costs $139 to rent, with a minimum two-night stay required, while the cabin (“spyu7”, or “bird”) costs $119 to rent for one night. See the property’s website for details.

By Adrian Brijbassi, vacay.ca managing editor

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The pool at Ainsworth Hot Springs has been attracting crowds for close to 100 years, but the Ktunaxa people have enjoyed the mineral-rich waters that originate in the nearby mountains for centuries. (Photo courtesy of Ainsworth Hot Springs)

Built by engineer and carpenter Robert Johnson, Esk’et Tiny House features a multi-level home ideal for a fall getaway into rural British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Esk’et Tiny House)

Elder James August of the Little Shuswap Indian Band communes with a cottonwood tree before it is taken down in a ceremony that precedes the making of canoes for the community. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

KX Ansulaxw of the Osoyoos Indian Band performs a prayer song during a ceremony at Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Elders of the Little Shuswap Indian Band stand on the stump of a cottonwood tree, honouring it during a cutting ceremony in February 2017. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort is set on Osoyoos Lake at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort is set on Osoyoos Lake at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

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