Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks


  • Terry Dorward, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Director

  • Julian Hockin-Grant, Tribal Parks Allies Liaison

  • Andrew Paul and Justine Townsend, on behalf of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation

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Visual Journey through Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks


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Glossary of Nuu-chah-nulth terms

Heelboom Bay on Meares Island

Traditional territories of the Tla-o-qui-aht ha’wiih

Feast bowl (Tla-o-qui-aht name for Kennedy Lake)

Hereditary leaders of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation with particular inherited rights, responsibilities and relationships in the ha’houlthii

Rights and responsibilities of the ha’wiih

hishuk-ish tsawalk
The Nuu-chah-nulth articulation of the principle that everything is one and everything is connected

Respect (to observe, appreciate, and act accordingly)

qwa siin hap
Leave as it is: a land designation in Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks that refers to rare and sensitive old-growth forest ecosystems and cultural refuges

uuya thluk nish
We take care of: a land designation in Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks that refers to areas needing ecological restoration

uuya thluk nish, uuya thluk usmaa
The Nuu-chah-nulth principle admonishing us to take care of ourselves, and to take care of our precious ones

The two mountains that comprise Meares Island

About Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks

In Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, the Nuu-chah-nulth teachings of iisaak have been in place for millennia to enrich life and support biodiversity for future generations. In 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht Peoples declared the Meares Island (Wanachus-Hilthuu’is) Tribal Park as a practice of iisaak to protect the territory from rampant clearcut logging. The Nation’s entire territory is now included in four Tribal Parks. which are implementing Indigenous Watershed Governance methodologies to promote environmental security and sustainable livelihoods. In Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has conceived an Indigenous Watershed Governance methodology to promote environmental security and sustainable livelihoods: Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. Tribal Parks have become a key strategy of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation in their ongoing struggle to uphold traditional rights and responsibilities in their traditional territories.

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks were originally articulated in the midst of the struggle against unchecked clearcut logging of old-growth primary rainforests in unceded Tla-o-qui-aht territories. In 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht leadership issued the Meares Island (Wanachus-Hilthuu’is) Tribal Park Declaration. The declaration was combined with a direct-action strategy, as Tla-o-qui-aht members and their Allies maintained a peaceful blockade to prevent the loggers from bringing their equipment ashore. In addition, the Tla-o-qui-aht launched legal proceedings, ultimately successful, which resulted in a court injunction preventing logging of Meares Island until Indigenous rights and title are resolved. The old-growth forests of Meares Island remain standing to this day. Since 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht have established three additional Tribal Parks: Ha’uukmin (Kennedy Lake Watershed), Tranquil Tribal Park and Esowista Tribal Park.

Collectively, the four Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks encompass all of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation territory. The Tribal Parks are a prime example of Indigenous leadership in conservation in Canada. They include 500-year plans for stewardship, ecological restoration, and community economic development. Tla–o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have pioneered an Ecosystem Stewardship Contribution program entitled “Tribal Parks Allies,” which partners with local businesses to fund Tribal Parks Guardians and ecological restoration initiatives. The Tribal Parks also include community economic development solutions such as ecotourism, minimal impact run-of-river hydroelectric projects, and Indigenous housing solutions.

This video describes the motivation for the creation of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. Produced by IISAAK OLAM Foundation, 2021.

Ha’huulthii (Traditional Territories)

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are located in the Ha’huulthii (traditional territories) of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, one of the Nuu-chah-nulth-speaking nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The four Tribal Parks encompass all of Tla-o-qui-aht territory, which in turn is defined by natural watershed areas, extending from Sutton Pass along Highway 4 to fishing sites beyond the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Esowista Tribal Park overlaps with Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Surrounding and including the town of Tofino, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are the gateway to the famous Clayoquot Sound, which includes the largest area of intact old growth redcedar-hemlock rainforest remaining on Vancouver Island. In 2000, Clayoquot Sound was designated a United Nations Biosphere Region.

Collectively, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks include the land and its deep subsurface area, the water and open ocean going offshore at least 100 kilometres, and the airspace above into the earth’s atmosphere. The Tribal Parks encompass shorelines, lowlands, and mountains on Vancouver Island and numerous islands and islets in Clayoquot Sound and facing the open Pacific Ocean. Inland water bodies include Ha’uukmin (Kennedy Lake) and Tofino Inlet. Esowista Tribal Park faces the open Pacific Ocean and extends to off shore Tla-o-qui-aht fishing sites.

Description: Map showing the territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal parks.

Timeline for Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks

Note: Tla-o-qui-aht history does NOT begin with colonization. This timeline merely chronicles the history since colonial Canadian disruption.

Governance and Decision-Making

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are an example of sole Indigenous governance of IPCAs (ICE Report, pg. 45). Federal and provincial governments have never formally recognized the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, and indeed the Tribal Parks have not sought official designation as a provincial or federal protected area under existing legislation. However, Tribal Parks represent an assertion of Indigenous governance, which is protected through Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. Renowned Indigenous rights lawyer Jack Woodward has suggested that Tribal Parks can thus be considered “constitutional parks.”1 They represent a “projection of sovereignty [and responsibility] over contested terrain.”2

  1. Gilchrist, Emma. 2016. “How B.C.’s First Nations are taking charge with tribal parks.” National Observer, March 31.’s-first-nations-are-taking-charge-tribal-parks
  2. Murray, G. and King, L. 2012. “First Nations Values in Protected Area Governance: Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve”, Human Ecology, 40(3), pg. 389.

This video produced by the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership and the IISAAK OLAM Foundation explored Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks from its origins in 1984 to present-day governance, key partnerships, and a unique financial model, this webinar will provide attendees with lessons and tools that gave this IPCA life and momentum.

Role of Indigenous Law

All of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have been established under Tla-o-qui-aht laws. In fact, Meares Island Tribal Park was established in direct response to the violation of these laws. British Columbia’s granting of industrial tree farm licenses without Tla-o-qui-aht consent and without a treaty constituted a violation of both natural law and Nuu-chah-nulth law. These licenses also violated Canadian constitutional law by disregarding the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which is a foundational constitutional document in Canada (Eli Enns, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

Tribal Parks are the current articulation of what Tla-o-qui-aht ancestors have always done in exercising their responsibilities to the Ha’houlthii. These ecological roles and responsibilities have been upheld for millennia. Ha’houlthii refers not just to a territory but the relationship with the living spirit of place; it is like an intergenerational marriage with a living being (Gisele Martin, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

Photo of a wooden sign that reads “Welcome to Tla-o-qui-aht Ha’houlthee”. The sign is in front of green cedar trees.

These are the sorts of relationships and responsibilities that Tribal Parks are working to strengthen and revitalize. In doing so, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are managing for “abundability” rather than the industrial goal of “sustainability” [i.e., sustained yield] (Joe Martin, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

In Tla-o-qui-aht society, a high value is placed on personal responsibility. The highest law of the Nuu-chah-nulth constitution, iisaak, means respect, or to “observe, appreciate, and act accordingly.” The law of iisaak was a core motivating and guiding principle for the Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration in 1984. Iisaak, together with other laws represented in the Tla-o-qui-aht crests and totem poles, guides decision-making in the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. The Sea Serpent crest, which is the emblem of Tribal Parks, represents the connection between observation and action, listening not only with our heads but our hearts. Decisions in Tribal Parks are informed by a deep knowledge and connection with the territory at a personal level (Gisele Martin, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

The original Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration

The crests and totem poles constitute the Nuu-chah-nulth constitution. The stories connected to these crests are told from one generation to the next provide a roadmap for Tribal Parks decision making and governance. This is not a manual of rules and procedures that one might find in a document. Rather, the stories become internalized as part of one’s “operating system,” which then informs action. These laws can be summarized in principles such as uiuthluk nish, uiuthluk usmaa: to take care of ourselves, and to take care of our precious ones (Eli Enns, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

The Ha’wiih, or hereditary chiefs, are the traditional caretakers of the Tla-o-qui-aht Ha’houlthii. As the Ha’uukmin Tribal Park Management Plan explains,

Tla-o-qui-aht governance is integrated into our culture and society and its laws are based on respect and ensuring the well being of our people and the environment. The Hereditary Chiefs are known collectively as Ha’wiih, and each Ha’wiih has complete title and rights within their Ha’huulthii. Ha’huulthii translates as all within their traditional territory and includes certain responsibilities to rivers, food, medicines, songs, dances and ceremonies. Each of these items is passed down to the Ha’wiih through inherent rights or marriage. The Ha’wiih have a responsibility to the Creator to take care of all within the Ha’huulthii.

Land Relationship Planning and Zoning processes

The Tribal Parks include 500-year plans for stewardship, ecological restoration, and community economic development. For example, a land management plan was developed for the Ha’uukmin Tribal Park through an extensive series of consultations and workshops that engaged Tla-o-qui-aht Elders and community members, neighbouring First Nations, other local communities, governments, environmental groups, industry, and technical experts. The plan subdivides Ha’uukmin Tribal Park into two management zones. Rare and valuable old-growth ecosystems and cultural refuges are designated as qwa siin hap, which means “leave as it is” and are off-limits to all development. Other areas are zoned as uuya thluk nish, which means “we take care of.” These areas include ecological restoration activities, low-impact forestry, a fish hatchery, salmon habitat restoration areas, low-impact hydroelectric installations, and ecotourism operations. Environmentally destructive activities such as industrial mining or clear-cut logging are prohibited throughout the four Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

Partnerships and Relationships

Partnerships have played and continue to play an important role in the development and evolution of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. A diverse coalition of Allies enabled the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to assert and defend the Tribal Parks against unwanted development in the 1980s and ‘90s, and today both those legacy Allies and a new cohort of Allies are supporting our vision. The Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies Certification Standard sets baseline criteria for “right relationship” between Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Allies while providing opportunities for settlers to connect to Tla-o-qui-aht cultural teachings about how to live well in relationship with the network of life that comprises the Tla-o-qui-aht Ha’huulthi.

Aerial photo of Meares Island

Conservation Alliances

Non-Indigenous environmentalists and conservation organizations joined with the Tla-o-qui-aht to oppose clear-cut logging of the old-growth rainforest, playing an especially important role in the large-scale protests and global consumer boycotts against old-growth logging in the 1990s. Today, seven conservation organizations comprise the Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance: the Wilderness Committee,, Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Canopy.

There have also been challenges in the relationship between Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and conservation interests. For years, conservationists have treated Clayoquot Sound as a pristine wilderness – only more recently have these organizations begun to acknowledge the deep human history and interconnectedness of the land and Tla-o-qui-aht communities. Conservation organizations continue to promote the development of a conservation economy in Clayoquot Sound while supporting First Nations’ efforts to prevent logging in all remaining intact rainforest valleys and islands.

Academic Collaborations

Academic collaborations have also played a role in raising the profile of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. In 2007, Ha’uukmin Tribal Park became part of a multi-sited research project on protected areas and poverty reduction based at Vancouver Island University (then Malaspina University College). This project linked Tribal Parks with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, thereby building wider credibility and recognition of the Tribal Parks model for conservation. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have been featured in at least three academic articles, as well as the Gleb Raygorodetsky’s book Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change. Academic articles on Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks include:

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks also provides the setting for land-based learning and engagement with Nuu-chah-nulth language and culture.

  • The Raincoast Education Society, formed in 2000, offers a variety of immersive land-based learning, cultural programs, and language education for youth and adults in and around Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds. RES also conducts research and monitoring, all in support of community-based stewardship. See their website at
  • The West Coast N.E.S.T. is a collective of organizations, cultures, and communities convened through the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust and includes Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. The N.E.S.T helps people find courses and transformative learning experiences with community organizations, businesses, and individuals in the region. See their website at

Relationship to the Business Community

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have never been about excluding non-Indigenous peoples from Tla-o-qui-aht territory. Rather, as an alternative to the BC Treaty Process and comprehensive land claims, they are about finding alternative pathways to economic certainty that uphold Tla-o-qui-aht laws, rights, and responsibilities to the territory.

Growing from their outreach with area businesses, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have established the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies program. Participating businesses contribute financially to the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks (see section on Moose #2: Financial Solutions). In addition, these businesses pledge to uphold Tla-o-qui-aht jurisdiction, operate consistent with the Tribal Parks Land Vision, report concerns such as poaching and dumping to Tribal Parks Staff, and educate themselves, their staff, and guests about local history, politics, reconciliation, and the Allies program. In return, participating businesses can use the Tribal Parks Allies logo in their marketing, and they are profiled on the Tribal Parks Allies website. Local non-profit organizations, charities, and individual donors can also be recognized as Allies.

Years of relationship-building with the business community and others in Tofino have paid off, and former Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne is a staunch supporter of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. When Imperial Metals indicated an interest in proceeding with test drilling at the proposed Fandora mine site in Tranquil Tribal Park, both the town and Tofino and the city of Victoria voted in support of the Tla-o-qui-aht mining moratorium despite exploration permits issued by the British Columbia government (Vice, June 11, 2014).

The Canoe Creek and Haa-ak-suuk hydroelectric projects have been created in partnership with the Barkley Project Group, which has allowed Tla-o-qui-aht Nation to build both the financial and technical capacity to develop additional hydro projects in the Tribal Parks. Subsequent projects are planned to be wholly Tla-o-qui-aht-owned.

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and the Four Moose

Moose #1: Jurisdiction

Treaties and agreements; competing legal interests in the land, e.g. forestry or mining licenses

Although the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation previously participated in the BC Treaty Process, they have since decided to leave the process, in effect pursuing Tribal Parks as an alternative pathway to achieving reconciliation, self-determination, and economic certainty on their territories.

The Ha’uukmin Tribal Park management plan, and the Tribal Parks more generally, have been used in consultation processes to evaluate various proposed activities in the Tribal Parks, such as a jet-ski enterprise and old-growth cutting permits. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have not relied on fighting existing permits and licenses such as those permitting old-growth logging. Rather, the Tribal Parks’ strategy is to establish a system of counter-governance for the area that will eventually render these government-issued permits and licenses obsolete and inoperable. After all, these permits have never been legitimate according to either Tla-o-qui-aht law or Canadian constitutional obligations to Indigenous Peoples.

Today, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks coexist with numerous jurisdictions, including the municipality of Tofino, private property, forestry tenures on provincial land, provincial parks, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve also overlaps with the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.


Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are a direct response to conflicts over jurisdiction and land use, beginning with the Meares Island blockade in 1984. The Tla-o-qui-aht Nation commissioned archaeological work demonstrating their historical and ongoing ties to the land, and a series of court cases ultimately resulted in an injunction preventing logging until Indigenous rights and title were resolved. This injunction stands to this day, and the only people who can legally consent to logging on Meares Island is the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation.

Non-Indigenous allies have also played a significant role in protesting clearcut logging in Clayoquot Sound. Eventually, the provincial government was forced to come to terms with this opposition, and they convened a “Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound” in 1994. One of the outcomes of this process was the creation of Iisaak Forest Resources, which consisted of a joint partnership between the Tla-o-qui-aht, neighbouring Nuu-chah-nulth nations in Clayoquot Sound, and the MacMillan Bloedel forest company. By 2007, the Nuu-chah-nulth had gained a 100% stake in the company and control of all provincial forestry tenures in Clayoquot Sound. However, the company remains constrained by provincial forestry regulations that favour industrial timber production. Collectively, Tla-o-qui-aht and neighbouring Nations still pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the province of British Columbia every year to retain control of these forestry tenures. This remains an outstanding issue to be resolved as Tla-o-qui-aht implements the Tribal Parks vision in their territories.

Large group of people standing in a ravine between treed mountains on Meares Island


The Tribal Parks have also been used to oppose plans for a gold mine in Tla-o-qui-aht territory. In 2014, as the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration, the Ha’wiih issued an updated declaration designating all of Tla-o-qui-aht territory in four Tribal Parks, including Tranquil Tribal Park, the site of the proposed Fandora Mine. The Tribal Parks explicitly prohibit high-impact activities, including industrial mining. On numerous occasions, Tribal Parks Guardians have confronted mineral exploration surveyors in Tranquil Tribal Park, turning them away for trespassing despite the surveyors’ permits from the provincial government. Both the town of Tofino and the city of Victoria supported the Tla-o-qui-aht opposition to the proposed Fandora Mine. (Vice, June 11, 2014)

Open-pen fish farms

Six open-pen salmon farms are located within Tla-o-qui-aht Ha’huulthii. Although some farms initially obtained the consent of the Ha’wiih, opposition has been growing in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation due to the detrimental impacts of these farms on wild salmon populations. Salmon farms conflict with the Tribal Parks’ goal of preserving and enhancing Tla-o-qui-aht traditional fishing grounds (Tribal Parks Declaration of 2014). Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians have led activism to raise awareness and demand removal of the fish farms (Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News, June 19, 2019).

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

The relationship between Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is complicated. The national park reserve, which was created in 1970 without consulting any of the Nuu-chah-nulth nations, overlaps with Esowista Tribal Park. However, despite the lack of official federal or provincial government recognition of the Tribal Parks, Parks Canada has supported the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians program while also contracting the guardians in Pacific Rim. Parks Canada also helped fund Tla-o-qui-aht planners who developed the management plan for Ha’uukmin Tribal Park (Murray & King 2012). The Clayoquot Biosphere Region has also provided a venue to promote reconciliation (Eli Enns, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

Tla-o-qui-aht citizen and Ha’uukmin Tribal Park co-founder Eli Enns co-chaired the Indigenous Circle of Experts for the Pathway to Canada Target 1. Eli emphasizes that Indigenous nations such as Tla-o-qui-aht can collaborate with federal and provincial governments to assist them in meeting their international obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity, but that it is also vital for Indigenous nations to work toward their own goals for IPCAs such as Tribal Parks (Eli Enns, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

Moose #2: Financial Solutions

Although the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation previously participated in the BC Treaty Process, they have since decided to leave the process, in effect pursuing Tribal Parks as an alternative pathway to achieving reconciliation, self-determination, and economic certainty on their territories.

The Ha’uukmin Tribal Park management plan, and the Tribal Parks more generally, have been used in consultation processes to evaluate various proposed activities in the Tribal Parks, such as a jet-ski enterprise and old-growth cutting permits. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have not relied on fighting existing permits and licenses such as those permitting old-growth logging. Rather, the Tribal Parks’ strategy is to establish a system of counter-governance for the area that will eventually render these government-issued permits and licenses obsolete and inoperable. After all, these permits have never been legitimate according to either Tla-o-qui-aht law or Canadian constitutional obligations to Indigenous Peoples.

Today, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks coexist with numerous jurisdictions, including the municipality of Tofino, private property, forestry tenures on provincial land, provincial parks, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve also overlaps with the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

Diagram showing how we plan to use the Ecosystem Service Fee.

Tribal Parks Allies and Ecosystem Stewardship Contributions

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies has been pursuing an Ecosystem Stewardship Contribution program to promote an equitable and reciprocal relationship with the tourism economy in Tofino. As Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Director Terry Dorward explains, this contribution is a modern application of the Nuu-chah-nulth tradition of providing a portion of all goods harvested in the territory to the Ha’wiih, who would in turn redistribute these resources so that the whole community’s needs would be met (Terry Dorward, webinar Nov 4, 2020).

Tourism revenues for the town of Tofino total more than $200 million every year. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks not only protect the old-growth forests and beaches that tourists come to see, but Meares Island (Wanachus-Hilthuu’is) Tribal Park also provides the town’s drinking water. A voluntary Tribal Parks Allies program, in which participating businesses are asked to contribute one percent of gross revenues, funds stewardship initiatives such as the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians.

To be eligible for certification, businesses are asked to acknowledge and publicise Tla-o-qui-aht rights and title to the territory, to participate in community-building events hosted by Tribal Parks Allies, and to collect and remit an Ecosystem Stewardship Contribution to the First Nation (see the Tribal Parks Allies Protocol Agreement). In turn, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks recognize complying businesses as “Allies,” giving them the right to display the Tribal Parks Allies logo, helping to publicise their businesses, and providing training and support to businesses, staff, and the public.

Ecotourism also provides a revenue stream for the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. Fees are collected from tourists visiting the Big Tree and Lone Cone trails on Meares Island. Contributions through the Tribal Parks Allies helps to support Tribal Parks Guardians, who help to manage and offset the impacts of mass tourism. Guardians conduct ecological restoration, waste cleanup, and monitoring across the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

In 2020, the Tribal Parks Allies program remitted more than $106,000 out of a total operating budget exceeding $300,000.

Economic and Livelihood Alternatives

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are creating viable economic alternatives to replace harmful practices such as industrial logging, mining, and fish farms. The Tribal Parks include low-impact run-of-river hydroelectric projects, fish hatcheries, salmon habitat restoration, and ecotourism. Rather than clearcut logging, Tla-o-qui-aht citizens like master carver Joe Martin continue to practice Tla-o-qui-aht forestry principles to access ancestral forests for carving canoes, bentwood cedar boxes, and other items.

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks’ long-term vision is for stewardship efforts, with the participation and support of Tribal Parks Allies, to enable a proliferation of sustainable livelihoods currently not practiced. Sewage treatment will allow reopening of shellfish harvesting; regulating boat traffic will allow herring to return to spawn in Tofino Inlet; and transitioning away from salmon aquaculture while continuing river restoration will enable the salmon fishery to open once again.

Tribal Parks Financial Plan

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks have created a graduated capital expenditure plan, prioritizing reinvestment into stewardship initiatives but also identifying funds for community and regional development. With more than 450 businesses operating within Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, and with a tourism economy worth over $200 million, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks anticipate a steady growth in revenue up to $2 million per year. In 2020, the Tribal Parks Allies program remitted more than $106,000 out of a total operating budget exceeding $300,000.

Large group of people standing in a ravine between treed mountains on Meares Island

Moose #3: Capacity building

Capacity building in Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks focuses on language and culture revitalization and the Tribal Parks Guardians program.

Language and culture revitalization

Master Tla-o-qui-aht carver Joe Martin is smiling as he explains how to carve a dug-out cedar canoe.

Language and culture revitalization are at the heart of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. The Ha’uukmin Tribal Park management plan declares that Tribal Parks are “a means to restore Tla-o-qui-aht traditional teachings to strengthen identity, language, ceremony and art, and promote healing and health through connection to the land.” Tla-o-qui-aht citizen Gisèle Martin speaks of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and the “ongoing work to protect the spirit of the land and all the living beings who belong to it and exemplify our cultural teachings” (Langscape Magazine Nov 6, 2019). By linking Tribal Parks Guardians with the Ha’wiih, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks uphold and strengthen the traditional governance systems of the Ha’huulthii, which include not only the land but the stories, songs, and knowledge that have been passed from one generation to the next.


The Tribal Parks Guardians are a team of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members committed to fulfilling the Ha’wiih’s (Hereditary Chiefs’) stewardship ha’wilthmis (rights and responsibilities). As guardians of the Ha’huulthii (traditional territory), they fulfill multiple critical roles towards achieving the First Nations’ and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks’ vision of restoring their homeland to its prior ecological abundance.

Guardians and caretakers have existed for many generations, upholding a wide array of specific responsibilities to specific species and areas within what are now known as the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. The modern Tribal Parks Guardian Program was established to help implement the land vision laid out in the 2008 Tribal Park Declaration.

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians work independently and in partnership with other organizations in the region to protect Qwa siin hap areas (which remain ecologically intact) and to restore uuya thluk nish areas (which have been degraded by misuse).

As Tofino’s tourism economy in the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks becomes increasingly developed, there is a pressing need for an effective Indigenous Guardians stewardship program. The Tribal Parks Allies program establishes a reciprocal relationship between Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and ecotourism businesses operating in the Tribal Parks — by funding the Guardians’ cleanup and stewardship activities, Tribal Parks Allies contribute to maintaining the outstanding ecological values that visitors come to experience.

Currently, the Tribal Parks Guardians program remains underfunded as the Allies program is expanded to reduce dependence on grants to fund ongoing stewardship, monitoring, and restoration needs. Some funding and capacity building support for Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians has also come from Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The long-term vision is to employ 10 full-time Guardians in the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians uphold the following responsibilities in the Tribal Parks:

  • Environmental monitoring: for example, Guardians maintain a presence at major construction sites to assure that environmental precautions are being observed and respected and that archeological sites are appropriately treated.
  • Stream keeping: Guardians monitor streams and assess their health, mitigating erosion and ensuring that salmon have an appropriate habitat to spawn. Each year, Guardians swim the rivers to count returning salmon.
  • Environmental restoration: In partnership with local NGO Central Westcoast Forest Society, Guardians are restoring forest and stream habitats damaged by industrial activity, especially logging. Another Tribal Park Ally, Ocean Outfitters, is supporting the Guardians to restore the Tranquil watershed.
  • Trail-building and maintenance: Guardians maintain the Big Tree Trail tourist boardwalk in Wanachus-Hilthuu’is (Meares Island) Tribal Park. Guardians also plan to improve and expand trail networks throughout the Tribal Parks to protect sensitive habitats while improving and contextualizing visitors’ experiences, thus supporting Tofino’s tourism economy.
  • Backroad, Beach, and Marine Cleanup and Monitoring: Guardians clean up and monitor popular tourist and recreation sites throughout the Tribal Parks.

Building cross-cultural literacy

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies host an annual Tribal Parks Gathering, along with additional educational offerings throughout the year to share Nuu-chah-nulth teachings and principles. The Tribal Parks Allies Protocol Agreement establishes baseline principles from which non-indigenous individuals and entities can begin building a more respectful, mutually beneficial relationship with Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

In addition, Interpretive Guardians, in collaboration with organizations such as the Raincoast Education Society and West Coast N.E.S.T., provide educational opportunities, introducing Nuu-chah-nulth concepts about how to live well with the lands and waters. These initiatives are aimed at enabling non-indigenous individuals, businesses, organizations, and agencies to develop the practices and mindfulness necessary to approach a more balanced relationship with the Ha’huulthii and with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Moose #4: Cultural Keystone Species and Places

Protection and response to threats

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks protect species and places of special significance to Tla-o-qui-aht subsistence, identity, and culture.

Cultural Keystone Species

As articulated in the Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration, the 2014 Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Declaration, and Tribal Parks management plans, the Tribal Parks are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the Tla-o-qui-aht people’s intergenerational rights and abilities to hunt, fish, and gather in their traditional territories. Stewardship initiatives aim at restoring the abundance of salmon and cedar, two species of many which are integral to Tla-o-qui-aht life and culture. For example, protection of the rainforest from clearcut logging and implementation of traditional Tla-o-qui-aht tree-harvesting protocols ensures that there will always be a supply of monumental 800-year-old redcedar trees for making dugout canoes, bentwood cedar boxes, totem poles, and other items essential to Tla-o-qui-aht culture and livelihood.

Large Red Cedar tree trunk on Meares Island.

Tribal Parks also dedicate resources to restoring salmon spawning habitat damaged by recent forestry practices. Tribal Parks also operate a salmon hatchery and collaborate with conservation organizations to rehabilitate forest habitats degraded by deforestation. However, salmon in Clayoquot Sound continue to be impacted by the large number of fish farms and associated diseases and parasites.

Cultural Keystone Places

Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks protect places of special significance to the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation historically, culturally, spiritually, and economically. For example, Ha’uukmin (the Tla-o-qui-aht name for Kennedy Lake, meaning Feast Bowl) features in the origin stories of the Tla-o-qui-aht people. The Clayoquot Valley also served as a refuge for Tla-o-qui-aht people isolating themselves from the smallpox epidemic in the 1800s (National Observer, April 2, 2020). The valley is afforded the strongest level of protection as qwa siin hap (“leave as it is”) in the Ha’uukmin Tribal Park management plan.

Housing solutions

Tribal Parks also include housing solutions for Tla-o-qui-aht communities. In Esowista Tribal Park, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation developed the Ty-Histanis Equilibrium Community with the vision of building the most sustainable Indigenous housing development in Canada. This development now includes over 100 homes, heated by geothermal energy and designed with swales and overflow ponds to mimic the hydrological functions of the original sphagnum bog ecosystem.

Challenges, Lessons Learned, and Encouragement for IPCA Nations and Allies

Relationships with non-Indigenous conservation organizations, businesses, the town of Tofino, and Parks Canada have played important roles in the success of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. However, these relationships took time to build. When the blockades on Meares Island took place in 1984, Tofino was a primary resource town dependent on an industrial logging and fishing economy.

Today, tourism is the main economic driver. Large-scale tourism also poses a challenge for Tla-o-qui-aht territory. Although the largest town, Tofino, only has a year-round population of about 2,200, more than 1 million tourists visit every year. Sewage outflows from the town have contaminated clam beds traditionally harvested by the Tla-o-qui-aht people. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks continue to advocate for a sewage treatment plant for Tofino, while Tribal Parks Guardians are removing marine debris and pollution to restore these traditional food sources to their prior health and abundance.

Along logging roads in the Ha-uukmin Tribal Park, large numbers of random campers have caused environmental damage and left piles of garbage (Alberni Valley News, Sept. 1, 2020). Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks is considering gating the road in order to better manage access. Tribal Parks Guardians have also conducted patrols and hauled out garbage.