Parks Canada celebrates 20-year partnership with First Nations guardian program

By Denise Titian, June 26, 2015

Ditidaht elected Chief Jack Thompson, Huu-ay-aht Tyee Ha’wilth Derek Peters,  Parks Canada Chief Executive Officer Alan Latourelle and Pacheedaht Councillor Jeff Jones honored for their for their contributions to the success of the West Coast Trail First Nations Guardian Program.

Photos by Denise Titian

Port Alberni — 

Parks Canada hosted a celebration that honored past and present employees of the West Coast Trail Guardian program at Alberni Athletic Hall on June 19.

Dozens of First Nations guardians were joined by family, friends, chiefs and councillors as they celebrated the successes of the mutually-beneficial partnership.

The guardian partnership started in 1995 with Parks Canada contracting with the three first nations whose territories have sections of the historic West Coast Trail in them.

Built in 1907, the West Coast Trail was a lifeline for shipwrecked mariners along the treacherous western Vancouver Island shoreline. It runs 75 km from Port Renfrew in the south to Bamfield in the north. It passes through the traditional territories of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht in roughly equal segments of 25 km.

Prior to the guardian program, the first nations raised concerns about how their traditional territories were being treated and the lack of consultation or inclusion with their chiefs over activities being carried out in their territories.

An agreement was struck in 1995 that would see 12 First Nations Guardians working the trail and hosting the more that 5,000 hikers that use the trail every year.

Each guardian receives training and their duties, including trail maintenance, assisting with hiker safety, providing cultural interpretation to visitors and wildlife reporting.

According to Parks Canada, their visitor comment cards confirm that the guardian program is a success as many hikers report their most memorable experiences included interaction with first nations guardians.

For the first 10 years, the guardian program was managed by Wally Samuel under the Quu’as West Coast Trail Society. Then, he said, Huu-ay-aht signed their treaty agreement and the program went to individual contracts between Parks Canada and each of the three Nuu-chah-nulth nations.

In its 20 years, the First Nation Guardian Program has seen dozens of young people reconnect with their home territories while acquiring skills that could be brought forward to other employment opportunities. Some moved on to other jobs while others stayed long-term.

At the celebration, dignitaries including Huu-ay-aht Tyee Ha’wilth Derek Peters, Ditidaht elected Chief Jack Thompson and Pacheedaht Councillor Jeff Jones were seated on the stage with Parks Canada Chief Executive Officer Alan Latourelle.

In his duties as emcee, Wally Samuel outlined the history of the Guardian program. “We are here to remember and honour that,” he said.

Samuel served as manager of Quu’as West Coast Trail Society from 1997 to 2008 and said he met many young guardians along the way.

“I appreciate the young people who get to know their heritage and are willing to share that,” he said.

Jim Morgan, Parks Canada Program Director, said the vision for the guardian program was for visitors to learn about Nuu-chah-nulth culture directly from Nuu-chah-nulth people.

“Today we work side by side and we rely on one another; and the guardian program is an excellent example of first nations sharing their knowledge,” said Morgan.

Latourelle awarded the Parks Canada CEO Award of Excellence to Derek Peters, Jeff Jones and Jack Thompson for their contributions to the success of the West Coast Trail First Nations Guardian Program.

The names of each and every first nations guardian was read out. Those guardians that have passed on were remembered and each guardian was given a commemorative ball cap by Parks Canada.