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Cultural Tourism at the Cowichan

Native Village, British Columbia

This study examines visitor responses to cultural presentations at the Cowichan Native Village on Vancouver Island,
Canada. A self-completed survey was used to collect information from 496 Canadian and international visitors at the
Native Village. The results provide a cultural profile of visitor experiences and satisfaction with a native-owned tourist
attraction. Descriptive statistical analysis found that two key
factors providing a genuine visitor experience of native culture were learning about Cowichan history and contact with
Cowichan staff. The study provides additional information
on visitors at indigenous cultural theme parks and enhances
understanding of the cultural tourism market in Canada.
The spectacular totem poles, cedar longhouses, masked
dancers, and unique artwork of Northwest Coast First
Nations are major tourist drawcards in British Columbia
Canada (Kramer 1994). According to the Canadian Tourism
Commission (1996), travelers are most likely to visit aboriginal attractions in British Columbia (30%). This article
describes the results of a visitor survey conducted at the
Cowichan Native Village on Vancouver Island, British
Columbia (BC). Opened in 1990 in the city of Duncan, the
Cowichan Native Village is owned and operated by the
Cowichan Tribes, the largest aboriginal band in British
Columbia (Cowichan Native Village n.d.). The Cowichan
Native Village features a cedar longhouse, totem poles, an art
gallery, and a carving shed. As a tribally owned cultural
attraction, the Native Village is part of the recent economic
involvement in tourism by First Nation groups in Canada
(Parker 1993; Buhasz 1997; Nicholson 1997; Loverseed
1998; Gairns 2000). This indigenous or native-owned tourism is referred to as aboriginal, native, or First Nations tourism in Canada and Indian or Native American tourism in the
United States. In Canada, Parker (1989) defined aboriginal
tourism as any tourism product or service which is owned
and operated by Aboriginal people (p. 400). These native
tourism businesses must have at least 51% ownership by
aboriginal people (Stewart 1993; Nicholson 1997). In British
Columbia, in 1994, there were 182 native tourism businesses
with 1,500 aboriginal people employed in BCs tourism
industry (Loverseed 1998). The number of native-owned
tourism enterprises has doubled since 1983, with First
Nations tourism developments the fastest-growing sector of
B.C.s tourism economy (Zukowski 1994, p. 44). Despite
this recent growth, there have been few studies examining
visitor satisfaction with native-owned tourist attractions.
This study reviews tourist responses to cultural presentations
at the Cowichan Native Village in BC. It provides a profile of

visitors and identifies key factors providing an authentic

experience of Cowichan culture for visitors. This case study
focuses on visitor enjoyment of cultural elements in an indigenous theme park and the implications for managing such
native attractions. Tourist expectations of native culture are
also contrasted with current presentations of Cowichan culture at the Native Village.


The Cowichan Native Village is located in Duncan, BC, 1
hour north of the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Set
beside the scenic tree-lined Cowichan River, the 6-acre village complex comprises a cedar big house, carving house, art
gallery, multimedia theater, childrens center, and gift shop.
The art gallery houses a life-size wood carving of native men
harpooning a whale from a small boat. The landscaped village site also includes a garden model of the Cowichan River,
several large wooden totem poles carved with animal or
human figures, a canoe shed with a small river canoe, and a
stone-lined fire pit for barbecuing salmon over an open fire.
Other visitor facilities include a restaurant, coffee bar, and
picnic tables by the river (Cowichan Native Village n.d.).
The village was previously known as the Native Heritage
Centre and renamed in 1997 to reflect Cowichan ownership
and tribal identity. The village is situated on Cowichan
Indian reserve land, at the southern edge of Duncan, between
a suburban shopping mall and the Cowichan River. Apart
from the nonnative manager, the village staff is mainly local
Cowichan people. During the (northern) summer tourist season of 1999, the Native Village employed some 80 people,
including tour guides, carvers, administration, retail, catering, and maintenance staff.
Visitor activities at the Native Village include a half-hour
guided tour of the site, with facts on Cowichan history,
Heather Zeppel is a lecturer in the tourism program in the
School of Business at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia.
This study was funded by an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship on indigenous cultural tourism. Field research in
Canada was also supported with a grant from the Canadian Studies
Association in Australia. The management and staff at Cowichan
Native Village assisted in this visitor study, but the opinions and
views expressed in this article are those of the author. Comments by
three anonymous reviewers also aided the final version of this article.
Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 41, August 2002, 92-100
2002 Sage Publications

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mythology, art, traditional lifestyle, and symbolic meanings

of the totem poles (Zeppel 1996, 1998). The 20-minute multimedia presentation, Great Deeds, describes Cowichan culture, history, traditional beliefs, and progress. In the carving
house, visitors watch Cowichan men carve new totem poles
or masks and women demonstrate basket weaving or
beadwork. Some visitors try carving on a wooden guest
pole or cedar log roughly shaped into the form of a whale.
Tour groups are entertained with a salmon BBQ and lunchtime dance performance held in the big house. The guides,
carvers, and retail staff wear casual clothing while Cowichan
dancers and singers wear costumes decorated with small
wooden paddles and cedar or wool capes. Tour guides and
other village staff also give impromptu outdoor performances of powwow drumming and singing. Cowichan
Native Village primarily offers a passive experience of
Cowichan culture with guided tours, a multimedia presentation of Cowichan history, and displays about hand-knitted
woolen Cowichan sweaters. Visitors interact with Cowichan
staff during or after the guided tour by talking with
craftspeople or retail staff and during lunchtime dance
shows. A committee of Cowichan elders oversees cultural
presentations at the village.
The Cowichan Native Village is a well-established cultural attraction in the city of Duncan, promoted in the Vancouver Island visitor guide and in three regional guidebooks
listing native attractions in BC (Kramer 1994, pp. 36-37;
Coull 1996, p. 35; Halliday and Chehak 1996, pp. 63-64). A
colorful village flyer is distributed at BC Visitor Information
Centres and on BC ferries. On the southern end of Duncan, a
large billboard sign on the Trans-Canada Highway advertises
the Cowichan Native Village. Other tourist signs on the highway also promote Duncan as the City of Totems. Since
1986, the city of Duncan has commissioned native carvers to
produce new totem poles. Some 70 totem poles are located
along the main streets of Duncan with free guided totem
tours during the summer. Other colorful totem poles are
located at the Native Village site.

Visitor Research at
Cultural Theme Parks
There have been few visitor studies conducted at indigenous or ethnic cultural theme parks. Stanton (1989)
described the setting, staff, and cultural presentations delivered at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. The expectations of visitors were also considered, including the opportunity to see real natives working in grass huts, join a canoe
tour, see traditional craft demonstrations, take photographs,
and participate in Tahitian dances. There was an emphasis on
material culture and performing arts. Some visitors were critical since staff do not live in the village houses and there were
no bare-breasted women at the center. A doctoral study by
Zeppel (1994) surveyed tourists at the replica Iban longhouse
in the Sarawak Cultural Village, East Malaysia (Borneo).
The study found that tourists who had already visited a rural
Iban longhouse sought authenticity through personal interaction with Iban staff while other first-time visitors linked
authenticity with seeing Iban cultural markers such as
dances. A more recent study by Moscardo and Pearce (1999)
surveyed 1,556 visitors at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural
Park in Cairns, North Queensland (Australia). The study
found that 70% of guests were international visitors, largely


from Europe and North America, and 30% were Australian

visitors. The main types of visitors were couples and organized tour groups. Most visitors were highly satisfied with
the Tjapukai Park, selecting cultural activities that met their
interests or desire for interaction with and learning from
indigenous staff.
Other studies have reviewed cultural authenticity in
museum and tribal displays of BC native cultures (Clifford
1991; Nicholson 1992) and also aboriginal involvement in
new Canadian native heritage parks (Jules 1994; Li and Butler 1997; Li 2000). At Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan, the native staff employs modern materials and
methods to interpret a Plains Indian archaeological site
(Morgan 1993). The Canadian Tourism Commission (1996)
found that aboriginal/native interest travelers tend to be
late baby boomers who are well-educated female whitecollar workers in managerial positions. Other studies have
found the international markets most interested in Canadian
aboriginal tourism experiences are Germany, France and
Italy, and the United States, Britain, and Japan (Parker 1993;
Canadian Tourism Commission 1996; Williams and Dossa
1996, 1999; Loverseed 1998). In Canada, authentic native
cultural content is seen as very important especially for the
European visitor market (Buhasz 1997; Doucett 1999).
Doucett (1999) has listed key criteria for tour operators and
travel wholesalers in determining authentic Canadian aboriginal cultural products. These include community involvement and the role of elders as cultural supervisors, business
participation and cultural interpretation by aboriginal people,
traditional cultural displays, local customs, and face-to-face
interaction with native staff. However, there have been no
studies conducted on visitor satisfaction with native cultural
villages in Canada.
This study at Cowichan Native Village explores visitor
interest in and responses to indigenous cultural presentations. It identifies key aspects of Cowichan culture that promote visitor satisfaction with presentations at the Native Village. In 1999, the village was reviewing its overall operation
and assessing its cultural appeal to key tourist markets.
Hence, this case study focuses on visitor enjoyment of cultural elements in an indigenous theme park and the implications for management of such native attractions. The study
also established whether there are similar tourist markets for
indigenous cultural theme parks in both Canada and

An on-site visitor survey of both Canadian and international tourists was conducted at the Cowichan Native Village
over 20 days, from August 19 to September 7, 1999. It
included three weekends and one Canadian public holiday,
Labour Day, on September 6. This survey period was
selected to cover the end of the summer school holiday break
(Canada and United States) and a late summer holiday period
for international visitors in Canada, with more local Canadian visitors on weekends. The self-completed visitor survey
included a total of 20 questions about the visitor experience
of First Nations culture at the Cowichan Native Village. The
questions are based on the visitor survey conducted at
Tjapukai Cultural Park (Moscardo and Pearce 1999), with a
focus on tourist enjoyment of cultural elements and

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consultation with managerial staff at the Cowichan Village.

Part A of the questionnaire sought demographic information
about visitors and their cultural touring in BC, while Part B
sought more specific information about visitor experiences at
the Native Village. The survey included checklists, ratings,
or Likert-type scales and three open-ended questions in
which visitors described their cultural experiences at the
The survey form was distributed to all visitors on arrival
at the Native Village admission booth. Visitors were asked to
complete the questionnaire during their visit and to return the
form on departure for a free poster of a First Nations wooden
mask. A total of 496 visitors were surveyed at the Cowichan
Native Village. Mainly independent travelers completed the
survey, although members of two tour groups (n = 27) with
retired visitors (USA Elderhostel Travel, Australian Royal
Automobile Club) also filled out the questionnaire. Some
305 visitor surveys were completed on weekdays (61.5%),
while 129 surveys were completed on weekends (26%) and
62 surveys (12.5%) on the public holiday. The author was
on-site during each day of the survey period, talking to the
staff and visitors, joining guided tours, and observing
Cowichan carving and cultural activities.

Visitors at the Cowichan Native Village
Table 1 provides a profile of the visitor sample in terms of
age, occupation, origin, and travel party. The visitors surveyed at the Native Village ranged in age from 7 to 82 years
old, though most were adults. The majority of visitors were
from mature age groups, principally the age group from 40 to
more than 60 years old (n = 300, 61%). The 30- to 39-yearold age group included a total of 85 visitors (17%). Those
ages 20 to 29 years comprised 65 visitors (13%), while youth
younger than age 19 comprised the smallest group of visitors
to the village (n = 36, 7%). The Cowichan Native Village
mainly attracts middle-age and older visitors, with 61% older
than age 40. The survey included 283 female visitors (57%)
and 207 male visitors (42%) at the Native Village. The profile of mainly female and older visitors fits the general trend
of those most interested in cultural tourist attractions (Zeppel
and Hall 1991).
Nearly half of the visitors (239 people, 48%) were from
professional occupations such as teaching (n = 59), business
managers (n = 55), administration and computing (n = 47),
medical (n = 27), scientific (n = 23), social services (n = 22),
and legal fields (n = 6). Most of these professional positions
require university education and receive higher incomes. The
largest single group of visitors at the Native Village were
retired people (n = 77, 15%). Of the retired visitors, 18 were
previously employed in education, health, social services,
and administration positions. The majority of students (n =
58, 12%) were adults completing university or college programs. A smaller group of visitors were tradespeople (n = 43,
9%), female homemakers (n = 20, 4%), and those working in
tourism or hospitality (n = 14, 3%). This trend of mainly educated visitors in professional occupations also fits the general
profile of visitors interested in cultural tourism experiences
(Zeppel and Hall 1991; Canadian Tourism Commission
1996; Loverseed 1998).

< 19 years
> 60
Tourism and hospitality
Origin of visitors
United States
Other countries
Travel party
With friends
Tour group

% of the

Origin of Visitors
The majority of tourists (67%) were international visitors, principally from Europe (n = 150) and the United States
(n = 131). There were also 145 visitors (29%) from BC/Canada. The domestic Canadian tourists were local visitors from
British Columbia (16%), principally from southern Vancouver Island and the greater Vancouver City region, a ferry ride
away on mainland BC. The other Canadian visitors (13%)
were mainly from the eastern province of Ontario, particularly the city of Toronto, and from the province of Alberta.
International visitors from Europe (n = 150) mainly came
from the United Kingdom (11%), Germany (10%), Holland
(3%), Italy (2%), Switzerland (2%), and other European
countries (2%). This fits with the general trend of European
tourists having the greatest interest in Canadian First Nations
cultures (Parker 1993; Williams and Dossa 1996, 1999;
Loverseed 1998). Smaller numbers of international visitors
also came from Australia (n = 25, 5%), Japan (n = 10, 2%),
Israel (n = 6, 1%), South Korea (n = 5, 1%), and New Zealand
(n = 4, 1%). One visitor each also came from Brazil, Mexico,
the Dominican Republic, and Hong Kong (China). A small
number of First Nations visitors from Washington State
(United States), Alberta, and British Columbia also visited
the Native Village during the survey period.
Most visitors arrived at the Cowichan Native Village
either in their own private car (47%) or in a rental car (37%).
The majority of visitors with a private car were from BC,
Alberta, and the United States. Most international tourists
arrived at the Native Village in a rental car. About 3% of visitors arrived by other means, including by train, motorbike,

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bicycle, and yacht. Three American visitors arrived in a

yacht berthed at the Cowichan Bay marina, then took a taxi to
the village. Staff also reported that British cruise ships
docked in Cowichan Bay and used a bus to transport their
passengers to the Native Village. Of the visitors arriving by
bus (6%), most were traveling with an organized tour.
The majority of visitors came to the Native Village in a
family group (38%) or with a spouse or partner (32%). The
family groups were mostly adult members, though some
included teenagers or young children. Other visitors came
with friends (21%); again, these were mostly adult groups.
Others indicated they were traveling in a combined group
with a spouse/partner and family members or friends. A few
visitors traveled as part of a tour group or social group (5%).
The smallest group of visitors were those traveling on their
own (3%). A visit to the Cowichan Native Village mainly
provided a social experience for family members, couples, or
groups of adult friends.

Cultural Touring at
Cowichan Native Village
Table 2 provides a profile of the visitor sample in terms of
travel information, village visitation, Duncan attractions, and
length of visit at the Native Village. The majority of tourists
found out about the Native Village through reading a travel
guidebook (31%). These included motoring guidebooks published by the U.S. and Canadian Automobile Associations
and other travel guidebooks on Canada (especially Lonely
Planet, Frommers, and Fodors). Visitors also noticed the
Native Village listed in visitor guides for Vancouver Island,
Victoria, and BC (Christmas 1998). Other sources of information about the Native Village were by word of mouth
(26%) mainly through friends or family members. The
other sources of information (17%) included a travel agent
or tour itinerary, local advice in Duncan, and the Kids
Guide holiday activity brochure for Victoria, BC. People
also found out about the Native Village through visitor information centers (13%) and by seeing the Native Village sign
on the highway in Duncan (12%). Only 43 visitors (9%)
mentioned the Native Village brochure. Other minor means
of finding out about the village were media articles (3%), the
Cowichan Valley Visitor Guide (3%), and the Native Village
Internet site (2%). Most visitors (31%) appeared to preplan
their holiday and a visit to the Native Village using various
travel guidebooks; others decided to visit while driving by.
One visitor from the United States noted, I came to see
totems then saw your [Native Village] sign. Then read about
you in AAA book.
The vast majority of respondents were first-time visitors
(90%) to the Native Village. A small group of visitors were
repeat clients (10%), mainly from Vancouver Island (n = 29)
and some international visitors (n = 19), principally from the
United States (n = 8) and Germany (n = 5). Repeat visitors
from the Duncan region came back with out-of-town relatives or friends or made a special visit to the village gift shop.
There seemed to be little repeat visitation from mainland BC
residents to the Cowichan Native Village.

Visitor Interest in Native Culture

The majority of visitors stated that their main reason for
stopping in Duncan was to visit the Cowichan Native Village


Travel information
Travel guidebook
Word of mouth
Other sources
Visitor information center
Sign on highway
Village brochure
Native village visitation
First-time visitors
Repeat visitors
Duncan tourist attractions
Visit Cowichan native village
Visit other Duncan attractions
Length of visit
< 1 hour
1 hour
2 hours
3 hours
> 4 hours

% of the

(69%). Many visitors also stop in Duncan to see the downtown totem poles since Duncan is widely promoted as the
City of Totems. This interest in native culture was the main
reason most visitors to stop over in Duncan. Of the tourists
visiting Duncan for other reasons (29%), most visit the
downtown totem poles or the BC Forestry Museum, whereas
others visit family and friends. More international tourists
than local visitors indicated the Native Village was their
main reason for stopping in Duncan. This study confirmed
that the Cowichan Native Village (and downtown totem
poles) was the premier visitor attraction in Duncan, particularly for international visitors.
The majority of visitors spent around 2 hours visiting the
Cowichan Native Village (42%). Others only visited the village for around 1 hour (20%) or less than 1 hour (7%), especially organized tour groups with limited time. Another
group of visitors spent around 3 hours at the village (17%).
Only a few visitors (7%) were able to spend 4 or more hours
visiting the Native Village. Most independent visitors
included a visit to the Native Village as one of several holiday activities completed in 1 day. Many visitors arrived by
rental car or private car, thus enabling easy travel between
key destinations around Vancouver Island (Murphy 1992).
This study found that the Native Village was often a first or
last stop for tourists traveling to or from the city of Victoria,
the main visitor destination on Vancouver Island.
In addition, this study found that 43% of visitors at the
Native Village had visited other native cultural attractions in
BC, mainly museums, galleries, native villages, and powwows. These native interest travelers included both local
visitors and international tourists, with BC residents more
likely to have visited native carvers studios, totem pole
raisings, and sweat lodges. Several international tourists who
had just arrived in BC/Canada indicated they had not yet visited such native attractions but intended to do so during their
visit (e.g., Royal BC Museum in Victoria).

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Number of

Cultural Attraction
Living Cowichan culture
Totem poles
Arts and crafts gallery
Carving house
Tourist cultural presentations
Great Deeds film show
Gift shop
Guided tour
Unique cultural features
Cowichan sweater shop
Comeakin big house
Garden model of Cowichan River
Additional cultural services
Cultural interpretive signs
Children learning center
Midday salmon BBQ


Cultural Information
Cowichan customs and traditions
Cowichan culture and lifestyle
Totem poles
Arts and crafts
Cowichan legends and stories
Cowichan history
Cowichan use of the environment
Respect for Cowichan culture
Cowichan language

% of


Note: Content analysis of visitor comments based on cultural

themes mentioned in guided tours.


Guided Tour


Table 3 indicates that the most popular visitor attractions
or activities at the Native Village are the totem poles (n =
422), the Khowutzun arts and crafts gallery (n = 420), and the
carving house (n = 400). These key attractions involve a
strong visual component of native artwork and totem
designs, or watching Cowichan carvings and crafts being
produced. The second most popular group of attractions are
the Great Deeds film show (n = 341), gift shop (n = 309), and
guided tour (n = 299). These activities involve a controlled
tourist encounter with Cowichan culture, such as learning
about Cowichan history during the film show or guided tour
and purchasing native souvenirs at the gift shop. It is noteworthy that some 195 visitors did not take the guided tour
offered at the village. Visitor comments indicated the hourly
guided tour did not fit their schedule; repeat visitors chose to
visit just the carving house or art gallery or preferred an independent visit around the Native Village. One repeat visitor
noted, I havent made a guided tour this year, but I enjoy the
people, music, film, the atmosphere.
By total visitor responses, the third most popular group of
attractions at the Native Village was the Cowichan sweater
shop, Comeakin big house, and the garden model of the
Cowichan River. Each of these elements has a strong association with unique aspects of Cowichan culture (e.g., wool
knitting, big house architecture, and riverside settlement). A
smaller group of visitors listed additional cultural services
such as the interpretive signs (n = 143) around the village or
visiting the Circle of Children Learning Centre (n = 93). The
learning center was mainly visited by parents with younger
children and was closed at the end of the survey period. Few
walk-in visitors attended the midday salmon BBQ (n = 11),
which was mainly held for organized tour groups. Two visitors also listed the restaurant and impromptu powwow drumming as part of the cultural attractions at the village.

Table 4 indicates what visitors learned from their guided

tour of the Native Village. Visitor comments for this openended question were analyzed according to key themes
drawn from the content of guided tours. The comments
referred to learning about Cowichan customs and traditions
(48%), Cowichan history (19%), Cowichan use of the environment (13%), respect for Cowichan culture (9%), and the
Cowichan language (5%). Visitor comments about
Cowichan customs and traditions (n = 178) referred generally to Cowichan culture and lifestyle (14%), totem poles
(13%), arts and crafts (11%), and Cowichan legends and
stories (10%). The word history (n = 55) or the word heritage
(n = 5) was the most frequent single comment about the
guided tour. Another 13 comments described general aspects
of Cowichan history, mainly the negative impacts of European settlement on Cowichan people. Visitors learned about
Cowichan history during the guided tour and also from the
Great Deeds film show. A local visitor from Victoria, BC,
noted, I learned that I knew very little about our native
Comments about Cowichan use of the environment
referred to the importance of salmon, fishing methods, canoe
construction, (Nuu-cha-nulth) whaling, and a respect for
nature. Visitors mentioned the salmon based culture, alive
and well and spear fishing by Band members only. Only
Cowichan people are permitted to use a traditional handthrown spear to catch salmon running in the Cowichan River.
Other comments indicated respect for Cowichan culture and
used words such as pride, respect, insight, awareness, acceptance, and sharing the culture. Visitors described a great
sense of respect & emotion and not to patronize with cute
mystical pre-conception! Comments about the Cowichan
language (n = 19) referred to the meaning of Cowichan
words (e.g., Khowutzun, Huy ch qa [thank you]) and the oral
or written forms of the language.

Cultural Experiences
Table 5 indicates that the main visitor experience of
Cowichan culture occurred through talking to Cowichan
staff at the Native Village (63.5%), especially the tour guides
and the resident carvers. Visitors also experienced Cowichan

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% of

Cultural or Tourist Activity

Talked to Cowichan staff
Heard Cowichan legends and stories
Took photographs or videos
Purchased native artwork
Tried wood carving
Purchased books or souvenirs
Tasted Cowichan food



Number of

Cultural Activity or Setting

Learning about Cowichan history
Cowichant totem poles
Meeting Cowichan people
Cowichan craft activities
Natural river setting
Cedar big house



culture by hearing Cowichan legends and stories (49%) during the guided tour and in the Great Deeds film show. About
half of the visitors (48%) also took photographs or made videos of the village site and cultural activities. Around onequarter of the visitors surveyed either purchased artwork
(29%) or tried woodcarving (26%) on the cedar guest pole
in the carving house. Smaller numbers of visitors purchased
books or souvenir items (20%) or tasted Cowichan food
(12%) such as salmon and venison, served at the Comeakin
Big House Restaurant. One visitor each also nominated the
powwow singing and drumming in their cultural experiences
at the village.
Table 6 indicates key factors providing a genuine experience of Cowichan culture at the Native Village. Most visitors
indicated that learning about Cowichan history (n = 177) provided a genuine or authentic experience of Cowichan culture.
This was followed by seeing Cowichan totem poles (n = 158)
and meeting Cowichan people (n = 130). Other factors providing a genuine cultural experience were Cowichan craft
activities (n = 111), the natural setting beside a river (n = 87),
and being in a cedar big house (n = 77). Minor cultural factors were seeing a Cowichan dance (n = 7) and salmon baking over an open fire (n = 3), mainly due to the limited availability of these activities for walk-in visitors. Clearly,
visitors sought an experience grounded in Cowichan history
along with seeing totem poles and meeting Cowichan people
as the main verifying factors for their visit. One Canadian
visitor from Ontario also noted, in regard to a genuine cultural encounter, I dont think non-aboriginals can do so,
except in rare & more sustained interactions.
The Cowichan Native Village incorporates several key
criteria in presenting native culture to tourists (Doucett
1999), particularly face-to-face interaction with native staff.
Visitor responses in this study indicate that learning about
Cowichan history provides a genuine experience of
Cowichan culture. Tourist interactions with Cowichan staff
are also a key aspect of genuine encounters with Cowichan
people and culture.
In Table 7, some visitors also ranked their responses
(from first to third) for factors providing a genuine experience of Cowichan culture at the Native Village. With these
ranked responses, Cowichan history was again the most
important factor for determining a genuine cultural encounter. Meeting Cowichan people also shaped a real experience
of Cowichan culture. Totem poles, craft activities, and the
big house ranked third in determining an authentic cultural
experience for visitors. These visual aspects or icons of


Tourist Features at
Cowichan Native Village
Learning about Cowichan
Meeting Cowichan people
Natural river setting
Cowichan totem poles
Cowichan craft activities
Being in a cedar big house
Salmon BBQ

Ranking of Authenticity






Note: Authenticity of cultural presentations: 1 = first rank, 2 =

second rank, and 3 = third rank.

Cowichan culture set the scene for encounters with

Cowichan history and Cowichan people in a natural setting.
A second open-ended question asked visitors to state the
highlight of their visit to the village, and these written comments were analyzed according to key activities or themes.
For most visitors, the highlight of their visit to the Native Village was seeing the Great Deeds film show (n = 99), watching the woodcarving and talking to the resident carvers (n =
67), and getting information provided on the guided tour (n =
63). For many tourists, a highlight was learning about the
totem poles (n = 58) and seeing the craftwork (n = 52).
Talking to friendly Cowichan people also provided a highlight for many visitors (n = 49). This included visitor conversations with the tour guides, carvers, and the Khowutzun gallery staff. Even the ticket seller and grounds staff were
mentioned positively by visitors. For one local visitor from
Vancouver, the highlight of her visit was the really friendly
guy mowing the grass & one of the carvers who showed his
work to my 2yr[sic] old son.
Some visitors found the whole visit or everything/sharing
culture (n = 42) to be an overall highlight. The powwow
drumming and singing (n = 20) were also enjoyed by some
visitors while others preferred the peacefulness and serenity
of the natural village setting (n = 13). For one woman,
standing in the Big House, looking out at the river and listening to drums and singing gave me a feeling of echoes of
the past. For a few visitors, food was a highlight (n = 10),
particularly the salmon, venison, and bannock bread. For one

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% of

Cultural Experience
Importance of culture
Very important
Fairly important
Slightly important
Type of culture
Traditional and contemporary culture
Traditional culture
Contemporary culture
Cultural presentations
Very satisfied
Quite satisfied
Partly satisfied
Little satisfied
Not satisfied


Note: Cultural presentations: 1 = not satisfied, 3 = partly satisfied, and 5 = very satisfied.

visitor at the Native Village, The highlight was the soft

commercial push.

Preferred Type of Cultural Experience

Table 8 lists the type of cultural experience sought by
tourists at the Native Village. The vast majority of visitors
(86%) felt that a genuine experience of Cowichan culture at
the Native Village was either very important (51%) or fairly
important (35%). One visitor also noted, But we dont think
wed know much of anything [without] listening to elders.
Some 40 visitors (8%) were neutral and had no expectations
or preferences about their cultural experience at the Native
Village. Just 5 visitors (1%) felt the type of cultural experience provided was only slightly important. One local visitor
from Duncan (female, age 28, teacher) noted, How can it be
genuine when we are surrounded by gift shops and pay
admission? However, another visitor from Ontario (female,
age 50, researcher-writer) commented, If you mean well
researched & conveyed [with] authenticity of fact & spirit,
very important. At the Cowichan Native Village, historical
facts and direct encounters with native staff defined the
authentic cultural experience for many visitors.
In addition, two-thirds of all visitors (n = 232, 65%)
wanted to learn about both traditional and contemporary culture at the Cowichan Native Village. For example, one tourist wanted to experience mostly traditional with some contemporary culture. Another one-quarter of all visitors
wanted to learn about traditional Cowichan culture only
(23%). Tour guides discussed traditional cultural practices
(e.g., legends, canoe and house building, totem poles) while
also presenting themselves and the village in a contemporary
fashion (e.g., big house functions). Just 20 visitors (4%) were
neutral about the type of cultural experience, while 10 visitors (2%) wanted to experience only contemporary
Cowichan culture at the village.
Most visitors (82%) were either very satisfied (48%) or
quite satisfied (34%) with the presentation of Cowichan

culture at the Native Village. Such visitors felt they had a

good learning experience (n = 62) at the Cowichan Native
Village. The guided tour and visitor interactions with tour
guides and other village staff contributed to visitor satisfaction (see Table 9). However, some 43 visitors (9%) were only
partly satisfied with the cultural displays, while just 16 visitors (3%) were little satisfied. Only 4 visitors (1%) were not
at all satisfied with their cultural experience. Of those who
were only partly, little, or not satisfied (n = 63), 62 were firsttime visitors and 54 were international visitors, mainly from
the United States (n = 21) and Europe (n = 24). Half of these
partly or little satisfied visitors (n = 31) had not taken a
guided tour at the village. Some of these dissatisfied visitors
sought more detailed information on Cowichan history (n =
12), including a truthful history of the past and the way
Cowichan people live today.

This visitor study at the Cowichan Native Village in Canada has provided further information about the cultural experiences of tourists at native theme parks. It has confirmed the
high level of interest from international visitors in native cultural experiences. At the Cowichan Native Village, tourists
were mainly interested in learning about Cowichan history,
seeing totem poles, meeting Cowichan people, and observing
traditional craft activities such as woodcarving. The visitors
were mainly older people in professional occupations who
required more factual information about native history and
culture. During 1999, the first written history of the
Cowichan Tribes (Marshall 1999) was sold at the Cowichan
Native Village.
Comparisons with the Tjapukai Cultural Park visitor
study (Moscardo and Pearce 1999) reveal a similar profile
for cultural tourism experiences at native villages in Australia and Canada (see Table 10). These cultural park visitors
are more likely to visit other native attractions, either in the
same country or in other destinations. In British Columbia,
tourists visit museums, native villages, and powwows for
native cultural experiences. At Tjapukai, visitors had experienced other native attractions, especially Maori and Native
American dances. In Australia, the four main groups of visitors identified at Tjapukai Cultural Park (Moscardo and
Pearce 1999) were the ethnic tourism connection group
(36%), the passive cultural learning group (24%), the ethnic
products and activities group (18%), and the low ethnic interest group (18%). The first two groups valued direct contact
with indigenous people or cultural learning through indigenous tourism experiences. At both Tjapukai and Cowichan
Native Village, visitors selected cultural activities that met
their interests or desire for interaction and learning from
native staff. However, learning about Cowichan history was
a more important criterion for visitor satisfaction at the
Cowichan Native Village.

Native Cultural Experiences

This study found that most tourists (65%) wanted to learn
about both traditional and contemporary Cowichan culture.
Cowichan guides, carvers, and retail staff at the Native Village imparted both traditional and modern cultural information. These staff all wear casual clothing except when giving

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Satisfied visitors
Speaking w/ the guides and staff of the village, we found them extremely friendly & willing to share with us the history &
experiences of the Cowichan people
The stories the guide told of his growing up in the village & how he was trained by his grandparents
Extensive conversation with the tour guidevery informative but also gave personal opinions from a First Nation
Difficult to think of any improvements it has been a very enjoyable and peaceful experience
The experience was much better than I thought it would benot at all commercial
I appreciate the fact that this is a genuine cultural center rather than a tourist stop
Hearing another singer/drummer and meeting everyone (Haida Gwaii Native, BC)
Entire setting, beautifully designed for all the senses, & also knowing its run by the Cowichan
Dissatisfied visitors
I would like to know about modern contemporary history, I would like to know what, where, how the people are TODAY and
a truthful history of the past (England)
I did not feel I learned enough about the Cowichans origins or the problems they encountered with white people. Only the
surface was scratched (USA)
The artwork should be cheaper. I thought the village would be larger and more traditional. A bit too touristy (Italy)
More informal contacts as alternatives to canned tours & presentations (USA)
Note: Visitor comments selected from survey data to illustrate key points about cultural experiences at Cowichan Native Village.
Native Cultural Village
Cultural Tourism Market
Visitor origin

Cowichan Native Village (Canada)

Tjapukai Cultural Park (Australia)

67% international (Europe, United States),

29% domestic Canadian

70% international (United States, Europe),

30% domestic Australian

Travel party

Family groups, couples

Couples, tour groups


Older than age 40 years (61%)

Older than age 40 years (57%)

Previous visitation

10% repeat visitors

19% repeat visitors

Other native attractions

43% BC native attractions (museums, native

villages, powwows)

49% Aboriginal art gallery,

25% Aboriginal dances,
12% Aboriginal tour

Native interest

Cowichan history, totem poles, Cowichan

people, craft activities

History, traditional lifestyles, current lifestyle,

native people

Cultural activities

Totem poles, arts and crafts gallery, carving

house, film show, gift shop, guided tour

Theatre shows and dance show, didgeridoo

show, boomerang and spear throwing, bush
food show

Visitor satisfaction

82% very satisfied/quite satisfied

7.6 to 9.2 (10) highly satisfied

Note: A total of 1,556 visitors were surveyed at Tjapukai Park, with results derived through inferential statistical analysis (cluster
analysis, one-way ANOVAs, chi-square), and 496 visitors were surveyed at Cowichan Native Village, with results derived by descriptive statistical analysis.

dance performances or hosting feast nights for tour groups. A

few international visitors, however, still expected to see people in traditional costume or even asked staff members if they
were real Indians. All staff at the village were Cowichan or
Coast Salish people. Yet one Dutch visitor wrote in the village guest book, Its interesting but I like to meet a real
Indian to learn more about nature. This suggests that native
ownership and Cowichan cultural interpretation need to be
more strongly promoted as a key attraction of the Native Village. Modern aspects of Cowichan culture and achievements
could also be presented in guided tours or visitor displays.
For example, at the end of 1999, a new business center was
opened on the grounds of the Native Village. At
Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan, the native staff
think that contemporary Plains Indian culture should also be

presented at this archaeological site (Li 2000). At the

Cowichan Native Village, visitor surveys in 1994 found that
some tourists expected to see tepees and other stereotypical
elements of Plains Indian culture (Nicholson 1997). However, this study found that most visitors preferred meeting
Cowichan staff rather than seeing Hollywood stereotypes of
Indian people (Francis 1993). Cedar longhouses, totem
poles, paddle dances, and fishing for salmon are unique features of Cowichan culture, while Plains Indian powwow
singing and drumming are now widely adopted by Canadian
aboriginal groups, including coastal native cultures in BC.
For cultural tourists, the Native Village presents totem poles,
other enduring features of North West Coast native culture,
and face-to-face interaction with Cowichan people. The

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guided tours, though, could focus more on Cowichan history

and on visitors talking to native staff.

This visitor study at the Cowichan Native Village
reviewed key tourist responses to cultural presentations at a
First Nationsowned tourist attraction in Canada. It provided
a cultural profile of visitors and identified key factors providing an authentic experience of Cowichan culture. Tourist
expectations of native culture were contrasted with current
presentations of Cowichan culture at the Native Village.
Beyond longhouses and totem poles, an authentic experience
of Cowichan culture was embodied in historical facts and
meeting Cowichan people. Tourists at native theme parks
enjoy activities that meet their cultural interests and desire
for interaction or learning from indigenous staff. This study
found that many visitors at Cowichan Native Village consider that contemporary culture should also be presented at
native theme parks. While most visitors were happy with
their cultural encounters at this native village, some still
sought archetypes of native cultures. Further research at
other indigenous attractions will identify distinct groups of
visitors and their levels of interest in native cultural experiences. This will confirm or dispel notions of whether visitors
prefer to experience both traditional and contemporary culture at native villages. This research should also consider
how stereotyped images of indigenous peoples shape tourist
expectations of cultural experiences. The required tourist
mix of traditional and contemporary native cultural experiences should also be further identified. These findings will
assist other indigenous groups developing or operating
native cultural villages as a tourist attraction.
Web Sites

Cowichan Native Village:
Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia:
Aboriginal Tourism Team Canada:
Aboriginal Tourism Authority:

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