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Where the spirit horses roam

Story by
postedAugust 22, 2022
Indigenous tourism
Photo by Peter Waiser

The area that is now Ottawa, Canada’s capital, has been a meeting place for Indigenous peoples for millennia. The city is situated on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe, and their continued presence is celebrated and can be experienced at unique Indigenous attractions, national museums, and sites and monuments across the city and beyond.

Over the past quarter of a century, Ottawa’s Indigenous Experiences has introduced countless visitors to the cultures of Canada’s first people. The reconstructed village next to the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the shores of the Ottawa River has welcomed groups from across the continent and around the world. Last year, the organization took a bold new step by establishing a second and much larger attraction: Mādahòkì Farm.

Located in Ottawa’s rural Greenbelt about 15 minutes from downtown, the 164-acre Mādahòkì Farm celebrates the deep connection Indigenous communities have with the land. Mādahòkì means “share the land” in the Anishinaabe language.

The farm is a year-round attraction, offering groups a range of authentic Indigenous experiences and workshops. The Feel the Heartbeat Workshop lets groups connect with traditional music through rattle-shaking and stomp-dancing. They can make and take home a traditional corn husk doll, medicine wheel, or dreamcatcher; take a walk and learn about the healing properties of native plants; enjoy a traditional meal of tea and bannock by the fire; and more. The farm also has a marketplace, offering a wide range of traditional Indigenous arts, crafts, and wares.

Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival
Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival 
(Photo by Ottawa Tourism)

Mādahòkì Farm is home to four seasonal festivals. The largest of these is the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, which Indigenous Experiences has produced and presented at the end of June for more than 20 years. It features live performances by Inuit, First Nations, and Métis artists; pow wow competitions; arts and crafts demonstrations; family activities; and lots of traditional food. The Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards happens in conjunction with the festival.

The farm also hosts the Tagwàgi festival in the fall, followed by the Pibòn winter festival and the Sīgwan spring festival.



Ojibwe spirit horses
Ojibwe spirit horses (Photo by Sandy Sharkey Photography)

Among the biggest draws of Mādahòkì Farm is its small herd of diminutive Ojibwe spirit horses. For centuries, these wild horses wandered freely on Walpole Island First Nation, an Indigenous community bordering Ontario and Michigan at the mouth of the St. Clair River. Also known as Lac La Croix Indigenous ponies, they are somewhat smaller than other breeds, standing between 12.2 and 14.2 hands high. They’re sturdy and have thick, lion-like manes and hairy ears. But most of all, they are survivors, the progeny of only four that remained by the mid-1970s. Visitors can see them up close at Mādahòkì Farm and learn about them through the work of artist Rhonda Snow, whose painted series of stories were collected from the elders across the land.

Beyond Mādahòkì Farm, Ottawa is home to many other attractions and experiences that highlight and celebrate Indigenous culture and heritage:

The Canadian Museum of History, designed by renowned Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, houses the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles and a First Peoples Hall.

At the National Gallery of Canada, the Indigenous and Canadian Galleries present Indigenous art alongside that of European settlers. Inuit art is also included in these galleries and in a separate gallery. 

The Canadian War Museum includes themed sections that delve into conflicts involving Canada’s First Peoples before and after European contact.   

The Canada Goose Arctic Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature presents interactive exhibits, multimedia, and fascinating artifacts about the natural history and human connections with Canada’s North.

Omega Park is known for its year-round Canadian wildlife safaris and fun activities, but it also highlights Canadian Indigenous culture with its First Nations Trail.

Indigenous tourism
Photo by Ottawa Tourism

Connect with the inspiring stories of Canada’s Indigenous peoples in Ottawa. We’re here to inspire.

For more information, contact Ottawa Tourism's Kelly Dean.