With British Columbia now into Step 3 of its COVID-19 restart plan, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has re-opened its tribal parks to visitors from across Canada.
The announcement on Monday, July 5 was made with a “sigh of relief,” said Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation natural resources manager.
“It feels like we’re winning [against COVID-19],” he said. “We walked this road with our Tribal Park Allies, local businesses and local residents and we’re really happy to make it through this all together.”
The nation’s tribal parks include the Ha’uukmin (Kennedy Lake) Watershed, the Esowista Peninsula upon which the District of Tofino is located, the Tranquil River Watershed, and the Tla-o-qui-aht side of Wanachus/Hilthuuis (Meares Island), which hosts the Big Tree Trail.
Although Tla-o-qui-aht has removed its COVID-19 security checkpoints, access to the communities of Esowista, Ty-Histanis and Opitsaht will continue to be restricted. The Schooner Cove Trail, which leads to the stretch of Long Beach in front of Esowista, will also remain closed, said Masso.
Revenue generated by the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Allies program last year went towards paying guardians to operate the emergency operations checkpoints in the villages, said Julian Hockin-Grant, Tribal Park liaison.
“We are deeply grateful to the businesses that participate in the Tribal Park Allies program for enabling the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks to reopen periodically to visitors over the past year and a half,” read a statement by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. “ʔuuščakšiƛʔicʔuuš! You helped our people get through a very scary time.”
The nation was careful to note that they do not speak on behalf of their neighbouring nations of Ahousaht and Hesquiaht, and that visitors should check their respective websites before making travel arrangements.
“We still have to be cautious,” said Saya Masso. “It was only days ago that there was a checkpoint here, so it’s still on everyone's mind. But it was a good feeling when the checkpoint came down – a feeling of normalcy somewhat returning.”