Ahousaht leadership issued a joint statement on Feb. 6 that the nation is not prepared to host Canoe Journeys in 2024. The statement was made on behalf of Ahousaht Hawiih (hereditary chiefs) and the elected chief and council.
In August 2023 a video made at Ahousaht’s Thunderbird Hall showed a group of about 30 members inviting people to the Flores Island community for a potlatch on July 29, 2024. With the hashtag ‘RESPECT – Gathering of families’, people were invited to land in Ahousaht, presumably by canoe, on July 28. The potlatch was scheduled to continue until August 2, 2024.
The news was met with excitement and anticipation up and down coastal British Columbia and Washington State. Word spread quickly through social media.
But Ahousaht Ha’wiih and elected leadership say they were not consulted when the invitation was made and could not ensure the safety and comfort of such a large volume of people coming to their remote, island home.
Tyson Atleo, ʔeʔqatiʔis, is next in line for his father’s Ha’wilth seat and is a board member of the Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society. Speaking on behalf of Ahousaht leadership, Atleo told Ha-Shilth-Sa that the chiefs and council were not adequately consulted about the extended potlatch and the nation is not prepared to take on an event of this magnitude on relatively short notice.
When asked why it took six months for leadership to make their announcement, Atleo said they want to respect the intent and desire to host, “but we want to make sure everyone is supported and can coordinate an incredible and safe experience.”
“Leadership wanted to ensure that they are a united voice in either trying to support or not move forward with this opportunity,” Atleo continued.
In the end, they determined that there’s no safe way to effectively host this year.
Ahousaht hosted an event called Journey Home to Ahousaht – Canoe Quest 1999. In August of that year Ha-Shilth-Sa reported that planning and fundraising for the event began two years earlier. Thousands of people arrived in Ahousaht for the event, with “more than 45 canoes” lining the beach.
“1999 was a different era of canoe journeys,” said Atleo.
Much has changed since then, including the greater number of canoe families. Last summer the Paddle to Muckleshoot brought over 90 canoes to the destination in Auburn, Washington. Several Nuu-chah-nulth groups paddled down the coast for several days to the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s land, where a week of festivities ended on Aug. 6, 2023. Over this journey the canoe families stopped at First Nation communities along the West Coast.
“It’s much bigger, more commercial and the expectation of the host community is to be able to provide things like medical services, parking, washroom and cleaning facilities. It takes a lot of resources and financial capital, on a commercial scale,” Atleo told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
On Feb. 6, Ahousaht leadership delivered a statement that read, “On behalf of the Ahousaht Ha’wiih (Hereditary Chiefs) and Ahousaht Chief and Council (collectively ‘Ahousaht Leadership’) we issue this statement regarding the announcement for Ahousaht to host the 2024 Canoe Journeys. Hawiih ƛakišwaya (John Keitlah) will not be opening Ahousaht beaches for the 2024 Canoe Journeys. Ahousaht Leadership will not be hosting the 2024 Canoe Journeys and we expect all organizing committees to respect this decision.”
They went on to state that while they recognize and appreciate the healing value of Canoe Journeys, the announcement was made without consulting Ahousaht Leadership.
“This was a violation of our traditional protocol,” they wrote.
“Further, Ahousaht and the surrounding region, including the District of Tofino, are not prepared to host the 2024 Canoe Journeys. Ahousaht and Tofino currently lack the necessary infrastructure (ex. parking, accommodations, food services, washroom facilities, medical and security services, etc.) to effectively and safely host the volume of canoe families that participate in Canoe Journeys,” reads the statement from Ahousaht leadership.
With that being said, Ahousaht leadership say they are working on developing infrastructure that could allow them to host events on the scale of Canoe Journeys in the future. According to the leadership statement, Ahousaht is in the development stages of several key infrastructure projects that are due to be completed in the coming years.
“With an adequate and inclusive planning process Ahousaht Leadership will work with the organizing committee to consider hosting the Canoe Journeys in approximately five years. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your respect for our declaration,” reads the Ahousaht leadership statement.
“Leadership wants to respect the wishes of muschim and know that Ahousaht is recognized as a culturally strong community,” said Atleo. “Many of our members travel to journeys and we want to ensure that we are prepared to offer that same level of comfort and care for people that visit us.”
He believes it will take a minimum of five years planning for such a large event given the remote location of Ahousaht.
“We respect Canoe Journey and value what they provide. We want to uphold canoe journeys and make sure it’s done properly,” said Atleo.