WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia – The Xat’sull Heritage Village project began as a step in cultural revitalization for youth of the Soda Creek First Nations in 1996. It was a place where elders could teach the youth about their spiritual, cultural and traditional way of life.
The Xat’sull (hat-sull), which translates to “on the cliff where the bubbling water comes out,” relied on chinook and sockeye salmon runs from the Fraser River in the spring. In the fall, they hunted moose, deer and caribou, and gathered blueberries.
They are the farthest northern Shuswap Tribe of the Secwepemc Nation, which is also the largest first nation within interior British Columbia.
Heritage Village is located in a remote, serene area, nestled alongside the gentle roar of the Fraser River. While some tribes want to keep their culture under lock and key, the Xat’sull want visitors to learn about their culture and zap stereotypes.
The season kicks off May 15, and activities vary each day. Visitors may learn from elder tour guides how to zip-net fish, prepare traditional meals, participate in song and dance and learn some Shuswap words.
“When I was a child I used to fish below the site, before the village was built and fall asleep on the rocks, listening to that river roar, and you can feel a certain calm come over you. It’s still like that today.” – Rhonda Shackelly, Tribal community economic development coordinator and manager of tourism operations
Elders regularly share traditional stories and history, including teaching visitors about plants and wildlife important to their people and about the gold rush days.
“For me, I really believe that the more I can share with them about when I was growing up, they’re going to want to come back,” said tribal elder and tour guide Ralph Phillips.
Today, the youth educate the visitors through their traditional activities, such as tanning hides.
Phillips said when they first opened to visitors, it was mostly German tourists. Over the years, more Native people have shown up with a desire to learn about their roots. “Many of them said they want to bring their grandchildren back to listen to the stories.”
Guests electing to stay overnight can sleep in a traditional pit-house, tipi, or under the stars. There are modern bathrooms and showers on site.
Photo courtesy Rhonda Shackelly A top view of Heritage Village on the Fraser River. Tipis are not a part of Xat’sull culture, but are used to educate visitors about different Native dwellings.
Tipis are not a part of Xat’sull culture, but are used to educate visitors about different Native dwellings. Rhonda Shackelly, tribal community economic development coordinator and manager of tourism operations, said her ancestors lived in underground pit-houses, summer huts and lean-tos.
“We brought the tipis in to accommodate the European and German visitors. They associate tipis with aboriginal people. Once they get to the site, we explain to them about where the tipis come from and the diversity of aboriginal people in British
Even with a flagging global economy, European tourists have already started booking trips, Shackelly said, but she expects to see more regional visits this year than in years past.
Shackelly grew up on the reserve and described her childhood experiences on the Fraser River as spiritual.
“When I was a child I used to fish below the site, before the village was built and fall asleep on the rocks, listening to that river roar, and you can feel a certain calm come over you. It’s still like that today.”
In addition to the offerings at Heritage Village, the Xat’sull annual powwow takes place July 24 – 26. Heritage Village is located 371 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
For booking information visit or call (250) 297-6502 or (250) 989-2323, ext. 115.