Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation launches a youth guardian program

Tofino, BC

Dressed in black uniforms, Carol Curley and Lance Tom patrolled the empty stretch of Long Beach in front of Esowista.

The words “Tribal Parks Guardian” were embroidered in white on their sleeves, which stood out against the muted blanket of fog that danced through the trees towards Incinerator Rock. 

They are two of the four teenagers who joined the youth guardian program, which was launched by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation at the beginning of June.

“It’s important to teach our youth how to monitor and look after our Ha’houlthee,” said Iris Frank, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation education manager. “This is a really good beginning for them and a very good experience to understand our relationship with Parks Canada reserve.”

Working in shifts seven days a week, the youth are helping to monitor and keep non-residents off the community’s beachfront, while also learning about their traditional territories, stream restoration and language.

“We see it as a way to empower our youth to know the world around them – where they come from, to learn the language, to learn our histories, to learn more about the environment,” said Terry Dorward, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks project coordinator. “That’s something that our people have traditionally done, so we feel that we are taking that responsibility on for future generations.”

Curley said that her position as a youth guardian has opened her to new ways of communicating with non-residents, or visitors that can’t speak English. By learning to use body language or drawing in the sand, the 18-year-old has come to value interacting with different people every day.

“I’ve been learning about how important it is to keep [our community] safe and to keep our elders safe,” she said. “Because our elders are so precious to all of us.”

By giving the youth a uniform and providing them with new tools on how to approach people, Dorward said the program aims to lift them up.

“It definitely empowers them to find a voice in these difficult times of COVID-19,” he said. “[Pandemics] are something that our people have historically had to deal with. We’ve had to isolate ourselves in the past. The youth are feeling proud about being the front line workers for the Tla-o-qui-aht.”

The program will continue until the end of August, as the youth prepare to return to school.

Tom will be entering his final year of high school. While his future remains unknown, he said that working as a Tribal Parks Guardian or within Parks Canada is not out of the question.

“It’s our goal to give them training,” said Frank. “We want to open them up to the possibilities.”

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