With COVID-19 cases on the rise throughout B.C. and tourists continuing to arrive at a significantly higher clip than expected, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is ready to close its Tribal Parks unless more West Coast businesses step up to support the resources needed to manage the industry’s impacts and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If a sustainable solution cannot be achieved by engaging widespread participation in the Tribal Park Allies certification standard, then it will not be possible for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to continue welcoming guests into our Tribal Parks,” read a statement released by the TFN, whose traditional territories include Tofino and areas within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, last week.
“The safety of our community members cannot continue to be compromised by a tourism economy which does not contribute to crucial community services, like our Emergency Operations Centre and Tribal Park Guardians…Our Nation opened our Tribal Parks to support an economic recovery for our Tribal Parks Allies and for local residents dependent on the tourism economy. All residents of the Tribal Parks are feeling the impact of COVID-19, but we remain optimistic that through engaging in Tribal Parks Allies we can collectively overcome these challenges and emerge as a stronger, more resilient community.”
TFN Tribal Administrator Saya Masso told the Westerly News that the volume of tourists hammering the West Coast took the region by surprise and that closing Tribal Parks has been discussed, but is not the desired outcome.
“Tla-o-qui-aht was in stride with reopening with the region, but we do need to see an uptick in the Tribal Park Allies Program so that we can have the resources to build back better,” he said.
The Tribal Park Allies program is designed to help fund community resiliency through a voluntary 1 per cent ‘user fee’ that participating businesses ask customers to pay with the money going towards funding the tools needed to mitigate the social and environmental impacts of tourism.
“We expect that tourists that are coming here to see a beautiful area would be willing to pay an extra penny on their dollar,” he said, reiterating that the money does not come from the business operator, but is a voluntary one percent ‘user fee’ paid for by customers.
“We’re not trying to hurt the bottom line of businesses. Businesses can sign up and ask their clients to voluntarily donate 1 per cent on top of what they’re paying…People are paying a lot of money to come here and some of that should go towards stewardship. We’re trying to collaborate with the tourists that value coming to a clean and well-serviced area.”
The program is currently helping to fund patrols by Tribal Park Guardians as well as checkpoints set up to prevent COVID-19 from spreading into vulnerable First Nation communities.
Masso said stronger participation in the program could lead to additional funding for resources like sewage treatment and healthcare services.
“It’s one of our goals to reopen our eel grass to herring and our clam beds again or contributing to the healthcare system so that we can open a maternity wing again and bear children in our homeland, which directly hits at more hospital beds and mitigates one of our concerns of being overwhelmed in our healthcare system,” he said. “In the long run, if 1 per cent were being donated from industries in Clayoquot Sound, we would have enough to contribute to the healthcare system and make a more robust economy and more resilient region.”
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So far, roughly 37 businesses have signed up for the program, but a call out by the Nation in July did not yield the buy-in that was hoped for.
“We know it’s busy, but there is a disappointment…It does beg the question, would more businesses have signed on if we had remained closed?” Masso said.
“All the leaders regionally talk about building back better and talk about building back to overcome crises such as these and having a more resilient health care system et cetera and this should have been part of reopening…It shouldn’t have just been words, it should have been action. We’d been closed for four months when we should have been eyes open to how to build back better and we see this tool as one of the tools needed to build back better.”
Masso added that the disrespect being shown by some visitors to the region is “saddening and disappointing” and he noted the impacts of those irresponsible behaviours underline the need for more robust stewardship and guardianship.
“It just highlights that we’re under-resourced…We need a regular presence for education and outreach in our backroads and on our beaches,” he said. “As Canadians, you would hope that if you found a quiet place in the forest, you would leave it as you found it and that’s not the case. We’re finding propane tanks and tarps and abandoned lawn chairs and tents that are broken after a weekend and left amongst all the litter and cans and bottles and garbage, it’s just a tremendous amount of refuse.”
Masso said participants in the program would help contribute to a “healthy and beautiful Clayoquot Sound,” by empowering Tribal Park Guardians with more resources.
“We open our homeland to the millions of tourists a year and to do that we need these tools to be able to continue to be open safely,” he said. “We think that businesses would understand that and that we’re symbiotically linked. We’re opening our territories, but we’re trying to minimize the risk and everyone has a role in helping that; helping the success of bringing tourism, but also the success of resourcing the Tribal Park Allies program.”
Anyone wanting to participate in the program is encouraged to reach out to Tribal Park Allies liaison Julian Hockin-Grant at email@example.com or 250 228 8526.
Marcel Zobel of Tofino’s Treehouse Gift Company and Selkies Coastal Creations signed both his businesses up for the program last week.
“The programs that they’re looking to do are what people are asking for, more oversight, more guardianship of the territory and I think they’re the perfect people for that. Being able to recognize that and support that is not really a tough decision,” Zobel told the Westerly.
“They’re not asking for us to take it out of our bottom line, they’re just asking us to put a 1 per cent fee on.”
He added the program is a valuable opportunity towards putting action to reconciliation.
“It’s about putting it into action and recognizing the harms that the First Nations have suffered and doing something to help empower, repair and recognize all the good work that they do and support them with it.”
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