Teara Fraser, the first Indigenous woman to start her own airline company in Canada, has joined the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies.
Fraser, a Métis woman who lives in Vancouver, founded Iskwew Air last year. Iskwew is the Cree word for woman.
Iskwew Air, which is based out of the Vancouver International Airport, provides charter services to communities throughout British Columbia.
Earlier in September Fraser flew to the Tofino-Long Beach Airport to participate in a ceremonial signing agreement with Tla-o-qui-aht officials.
The Tribal Parks Allies are groups of businesses that recognize they are operating in Tla-o-qui-aht tribal parks and that they are supporters of both the land and community visions of the First Nation.
“Reciprocity is one of our values,” Fraser said of Iskwew Air. “We’re always thinking how can we be reciprocal in the traditional territories we visit.”
Fraser said she only became aware of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies recently through a social media post.
“I looked at it and thought, ‘What is this agreement about?’,” Fraser said. “I did my research of course and looked at others in the program.”
Other allies include the Tofino Arts Council, Tofino Resort and Marina, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust and Long Beach Nature Tours.
Fraser decided to fly to Tofino and take part in an official ceremonial signing as she joined the Tribal Parks Alliance.
“I thought it was important to be welcomed into their territory in a good way,” Fraser said. “It was important for me to go there and give my word.”
A short video of the day was recorded and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRlvYYZ2HGk
The signing ceremony included Julian Hockin-Grant, the Tribal Parks Allies coordinator, and Gisele Martin, a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and a tribal parks guardian.
“There’s something really important here about how conversations can happen and how businesses can get involved,” Fraser said.
This marks just the second year of existence for the Tribal Parks Alliance.
“Tribal Parks, though, has had allies for decades and decades,” Martin said. “The first ones were declared in 1984.”
Martin is grateful to those businesses who have joined the alliance since last year.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people operating in First Nations,” she said.
Fraser is thankful she is now one of the allies.
“It’s important because when we go to Tofino-Long Beach Airport, we’re arriving there as guests,” she said. “There is prosperity that exists and results from being on their land and their territory.”
In the agreement signed in September, Iskwew Air upholds the ecosystems maintained and protected by Tla-o-qui-aht guardians and memberships by agreeing to follow certain criteria. These include the fact Iskwew Air recognizes that the First Nation manages its territories and continues to protect vital ecosystem services.
The agreement also details that using Tla-o-qui-aht territorial land results in economic, social, cultural and ecological costs to the First Nation.
“I’m really grateful to have a clear way to honour and respect the territory that we are guests on,” Fraser said.
In its signed agreement, seven points have been identified in ways Iskwew Air will contribute in its newest partnership.
For starters, it will acknowledge the unceded rights title of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and target a one per cent gross ecosystem fee, which will be paid to the Tribal Park department.
Iskwew Air will also advocate and portray First Nations stewardship in all media, include the Tribal Park Allies logo in its publicity and maintain business practices which follow the Tribal Parks land vision and plans.
Iskwew Air representatives will also report any territorial concerns to Tribal Parks staff. And they’ll educate not only themselves but their staff and guests about issues, including local history, politics and reconciliation.
In the video made during the day of the signing agreement, Martin said people have a vital role to play.
“Humans are not exempt from having strong ecological roles and responsibilities in this land, just like bears, wolves, deer and salmon,” she said. “And all the plants and animals have gifts that they bring, things that they contribute to the community that is the spirit of this place.”
Martin also believes it’s key to sign agreements detailing roles and responsibilities for all.
“The papers are important because it is the modern way of joining the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies,” she said. “But I think even older than that is the oral and the heartful way because we are an oral culture here and it’s our actions that are most important, not just what we sign. So the signing is important, the papers are important, but the actions are especially important and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.”
Martin also believes the partnership with Iskwew Air will prove to be fruitful.
“I feel we are holding good things in our hearts,” she said. “And good things are going to come for everybody involved.”