Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht elders reflect on new conservation safeguards for Clayoquot Sound | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht elders reflect on new conservation safeguards for Clayoquot Sound

Tofino, BC

Sitting side-by-side, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elder Moses Martin and Ahousaht Ha'wilth Maquinna (Lewis George) gazed thoughtfully at the scene unfolding at Tofino’s Village Green on June 21, as young dancers welcomed family and guests to a celebration that’s been a long time coming.

Forty-years after declaring Meares Island a tribal park under Nuu-chah-nulth law, the provincial government is finally recognizing Indigenous authority of the so-called Crown lands that were colloquially known as Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 54. On June 18, the province announced 76,000 hectares of conservancies in Clayoquot Sound. When these protected areas come into effect on June 26, they will comprise almost 60 per cent of what is currently under a forestry tenure tied to TFL 54.

“It feels really, really good,” said Maquinna of the new conservancies, reflecting on the Meares Island standoff of 40 years ago. “I was telling Moses that I was really proud of what he did. They had their chainsaws, they were starting to clearcut that day. My dad was there at the same time to stop them. Two people from Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht. The other 12 Nuu-chah-nulth tribes jumped right in with support and a lot of other people jumped in with support in the fight for Meares.”

In 1984, Martin made history for leading a blockade that quashed industrial logging giant MacMillan Bloedel’s plans to cut the big trees on Meares Island, a place located 10-minutes by boat from Tofino where visitors can admire some of the oldest Western red cedar trees on Earth.

Martin’s actions led to the creation of Canada’s first-ever tribal park and to a court injunction that halted the logging of Meares. He says the idea of declaring Meares Island a tribal park came out of what was also happening up in Haida Gwaii between the Haida people and loggers.

“They were doing the same thing up in Haida Gwaii, but they no longer needed to call it a tribal park because of their discussion with Canada for a national park,” Martin recalls.

Haida’s blockades and fight to save old-growth forests resulted in a landmark conservation agreement between Haida and Canada’s federal government.

While Martin was applauded twice during the June 21 event for his key role in saving Meares, he reinforced the fact that protecting the big trees was very much a group effort.

“It’s something we were all a big part of, not just us, not just myself. That’s kind of what I did as a community leader and elected chief, was to build relationships with our municipality and our neighbouring tribes. At the time when we needed it, we all came together with the same thing in mind that we were going to find a way to protect Meares Island,” said Martin.

The tenure for TFL 54 is currently held by Ma-Mook Natural Resources, which is owned by a partnership of the Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht, Toquaht and Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nations. Payment for removing the Crown land from the tenure is being funded by the environmental group Nature United, who committed $40 million to support Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht with the transition from commercial forestry to a conservation economy.

MP Gord Johns attended the June 21 celebration in Tofino.

“The financing is to be able to help exercise their renewed declaration and the vision of the Hawiih and the musčim of Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht,” said Johns. “For them to be able to implement their land use vision, they require resources. This is just the beginning. Canada and the province of B.C. and all of us need to do much more.”

“This is just a first step in securing an agreement with the nations for conservation so that they can fulfill their vision, but it doesn’t take away their ability to exercise their rights for self-determination. It does ensure that any development that happens in their ha-houlthee requires free, prior and informed consent,” Johns continued.

The Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration was read aloud in both English and Nuu-chah-nulth language during the festivities at Tofino’s Village Green. Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht’s Natural Resources manager, said it is oral tradition to read documents aloud and have people witness.

Martin spoke about the loss of language due to residential schools.

“There are 1,400 people in the tribe that I come from. Only 10 of us are fluent speakers. It was something special (to hear the declaration in Nuu-chah-nulth language). The elders are working to keep our language alive,” said Martin.

Maquinna went on to tell the Ha-Shilth-Sa newspaper that Ahousaht is trying to raise funds to buy all the lands back in their territory.

“It will be back in our hands, so corporations can’t come in and clearcut,” said Maquinna. “With Tla-o-qui-aht, their fight is on the same level as ours, but they have to fight for their territories. We support them, but we are careful to make sure we are not stepping on toes.”


- With a file from Eric Plummer

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