Uchucklesaht launches premium spring water tapped from traditional territory

Denise Titian, July 18, 2018

At about $12 a bottle in stores, the Thunderbird Spirit Water comes from a mountain spring by Henderson Lake. (Uchucklesaht photo)

Port Alberni — 

The Uchucklesaht Tribe Government (UTG) is proud to unveil their exclusive new premium brand artesian spring water, tapped from their home territory in the remote reaches of Hucuktlis (Henderson) Lake, in Barkley Sound.

The water they are selling comes from the T’iitsk’in [teet-skin] spring, located in the lower regions of the Thunderbird Nest (T’iitsk’in Paawats), a mountain that towers over northwest end of Hucuktlis Lake. According to Uchucklesaht legends, the mountain is the home of the Thunderbird, guardian of the Uchucklesaht people, their land, forests and waters.

Located at the western end of the Alberni Inlet, the Thunderbird Nest is known to be the wettest region of North America with average annual rainfall exceeding 7,000 millimeters (as compared to 1,120 mm in Vancouver).

“As numerous Pacific storms bring life-giving water to the Thunderbird Nest, mother earth’s cleansing vitality filters any impurities as if flows underground to the spring. The result is clean, crisp and refreshing,” reads the UTG press release.

The nation made the announcement in a July 16, 2018 press release in which they stated they would be introducing their luxury brand of water at an upcoming Assembly of First Nations meeting in Vancouver, BC.

“The launch of this Premium Canadian Spring Water at the AFN trade convention will introduce their new brand to the marketplace and will showcase the pristine sustainable attributes of the Uchucklesaht Tribe’s territory on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island,” said UTG in a media release. “This new First Nations business enterprise proudly provides naturally-sourced spring water that is pure, premium and protected, a new hallmark unrivalled among premium waters,” it goes on to say.

UTG Chief Operating Officer Scott Coulson says it is the purest water, data-wise.

“Water quality testing proves it is of higher quality than waters like Voss or Fiji,” Coulson said, adding that the water is tested for a long list of impurities.

The water is tested on a monthly basis and each time a shipment of water leaves for bottling.

Part of reason that Thunderbird Spirit Water is so clean and pure is the remote location of the spring. The Uchucklesaht are signatories to the 2011 Maa-nulth Treaty with the governments of Canada and British Columbia. The springs are well within their treaty settlement land boundaries.

“So we can protect it ourselves and don’t have to rely on the government for that,” said Coulson.

Artesian water is groundwater found below the water table. According to information from the Government of Canada, ground water is everywhere, filling spaces in particles of sand, gravel, and rock crevices. Ground water above the water table is mixed with air, while water below is not.

Groundwater can be accessed by tapping into it with a well. Or, as in the case of the Thunderbird Spirit Water spring, the water simply bubbles to the surface as it has for decades. “It bubbles up into a cement cauldron with a cap,” said Coulson, adding that the water is so pure they used it for 20 years for community water and for the fish hatchery.

UTG has a water license with the province of British Columbia which allows them to use up the 600,000 gallons of spring water per day. The water is so abundant in that location that 600,000 gallons per day is only a small percentage of the daily flow. “There’s no danger of running dry,” said Coulson, adding that UTG monitors the water flow daily because it feeds a fish-bearing creek.

The water is pumped into tanker trucks and shipped to the lower mainland where it is put into high-end glass bottles. Coulson said there are plenty of bottling facilities that could bottle the water in plastic but Uchucklesaht’s entire business plan is based on an environmentally friendly approach.

“Thunderbird Spirit Water is the first of many commercial enterprises which will enable our people to work and to build our community infrastructure, and our capacity while retaining our own cultural identity in a sustainable manner. Our people have worked so hard to get to this point and now we proudly offer the world’s finest water brand,” said Uchucklesaht Chief Charlie Cootes.

The water comes in clear 750-millilitre glass bottles decorated with a First Nations Thunderbird crest and retails for about $12 a bottle.

The water is being showcased in trade shows and Coulson hopes that it will be served in high-end restaurants and will be shipped world-wide.

The water is being distributed by Sea 2 Sky Sports Nutrition based in North Vancouver, B.C. UTG will operate a small storefront from their offices located in The Thunderbird building on lower Argyle Street in Port Alberni.

UTG is working on plans to open a bottling facility in Port Alberni.