The Tseshaht First Nation have implemented a new beach keeper fee for companies who operate within the Broken Group Islands—the birthplace and territory of the Tseshaht First Nation.
The new $10 a day, per use fee will be charged by the companies who participate and that revenue will be given to Tseshaht, who will put all the funds directly back into their Beach Keeper Program.
The Beach Keeper Program is a partnership between the Tseshaht First Nation and Parks Canada. Beach keepers assist as ambassadors, monitor, report and offer historical information about the area to tourists, kayakers and other visitors to the Broken Group Islands.
“[The program] has really evolved over the years, it’s been around for a number of years now. [Beach keepers] really provide a great ambassadorship for Tseshaht as well, but when tourists are out there they’re able to provide historical background and information about Tseshaht and all the islands and their names and history,” said Tseshaht elected chief councillor Ken Watts. “Beach keepers are out on patrol and observing the area. They work closely with Parks Canada and they also work closely with the nation as well.”
Watts said years ago a working group was formed to discuss the Beach Keeper Program and the Broken Group Islands with the goal of making the program sustainable and for operators in the area to show recognition for Tseshaht territory.
“We can’t just rely on funding from the federal government and so one way to do that is having a (user) fee,” Watts said. “Every dollar that we get from [the user fee] we reinvest back into the program. [The beach keepers] are already talking about looking at potential equipment that they’ve never been able to buy through our contract with Parks Canada because that’s limited funding and it’s short-term, it doesn’t fund the whole year. So our hope is to really have the program money all year throughout our territory.”
The Beach Keeper Program pulls from traditional Nuu-chah-nulth roles.
“It was a role of people who watched certain beaches and certain areas from their hereditary chief. That was one of their roles to watch a certain beach and keep it protected, make sure it’s safe and report any activity to whoever they needed to,” Watts said. “It’s a historical role and I think it’s coming back to that. [The beach keepers’] role specifically is to the Broken Group Islands. We do have several reserves down there as well.”
Currently five beach keepers, based at Keith Island, are working from about June until September or October but with more funding, Watts says he hopes the program will be year round.
So far companies that participate in the fee program include Majestic Ocean Kayaking and Hello Nature Kayaking. Wild Root Journeys have also committed to the fee. Watts hopes that all companies operating in the Broken Group Islands will eventually embrace the new fee.
Watts said he’s proud and thankful to the companies who have stepped up and implemented the new fee.
“In a time when we’re going through so many difficult things as Indigenous people or First Nations, there’s these companies in the private sector that step up and say ‘I want to respect you and your territory and I want to give back’,” Watts said. “This funding is going to help improve the (Beach Keeper) program, which is in turn going to help [visitor’s] experience out in the Broken Group. We talk about reconciliation with the Crown but really Canadians have a role to play too, and businesses in the private sector have a role to play too. I think they’re stepping up, I’m really proud of the ones who have stepped up.”
Reconciliation is a major reason Kevin Bradshaw, owner and guide at Hello Nature Kayaking, wanted to participate in the beach keeper fee program.
“We wanted to show a positive step toward reconciliation and recognizing the territories that we are working in,” Bradshaw said. “I’ve worked in the Broken Group for the last 19 years. I’ve definitely seen a major shift in the Beach Keepers Program…it allows for a connection with the culture, people and territory which is unmatched anywhere else that I’ve paddled.”
Bradshaw said he anticipates the kayaking company will host more than 250 guests in the Broken Group Islands in the next month.
Tracy Eeftink, who owns Majestic Ocean Kayaking with her husband Ted, said it wasn’t a surprise when the Tseshaht implemented the new user fee.
“I also collect fees on behalf of the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht and Toquaht so when Tseshaht said they would like to have a fee then I just went ‘oh of course’,” Eeftink said. “I think when people are travelling they expect that there’s going to be some things like that added on, it’s not unheard of when you travel to other parts of the world, there’s always some type of eco fee or community fee.”
Eeftink, who’s been operating in the Broken Group Islands for 28 years, said she hopes the fee will help the Beach Keeper Program expand and become sustainable.
“The Broken Group Islands are a world class destination and it’s important that people are educated about several things while they’re on their trip,” Eeftink said. “It’s not just about paddling around and seeing how beautiful the islands are but it’s also important to learn about respecting nature and understanding the culture and the history and the people that came before them.”