Timmy Masso was surrounded by supporters as he set up a blockade to prevent tourists from accessing the Kennedy Lake backroads on Tuesday.
“I’m so honoured to see the amount of people that are here supporting me and I hope that this is the first step in change and change that’s going to happen in the right way,” the 18 year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member told the Westerly News at the West Main Forest Service Road blockade that came into effect at 4 p.m. “We all have to come together as the people that live on this West Coast and we have to find a proper solution.”
The event was held peacefully and remained respectful throughout the evening with Ucluelet RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Kevin Smith confirming to the Westerly News on Wednesday morning that there were no reports of violence or confrontation.
Smith said police attended the blockade strictly to “keep the peace.”
“We are not taking sides either way, we’re just there to keep the peace and make sure that things don’t escalate to assaults or threats or anything like that,” he said, adding RCMP had spoken with Masso prior to the event. “He’s there to educate people and hopefully stop people from going there and littering and destroying the environment.”
Masso had set up the blockade after growing increasingly frustrated by the disrespect visitors were showing to the area with illegal campfires and discarded waste and the destruction that disrespect was causing to the environment.
“They use this place as a place to party and come have a small vacation and not really care about the consequences on the land. That is what I want to stop,” he said. “I want to stop the tourists and people that are coming in that don’t care about their surroundings.”
David Helmer and Hannah Hinz had travelled from Denman Island hoping to paddle in the area, but respectfully canceled those plans when they arrived at the blockade.
“We’re obviously not going to continue because we respect what’s happening here,” Helm told the Westerly.
“It’s not our land, so you really just have to listen to people whose land it is,” Hinz added. “People just go in and trash these places. They don’t treat it with respect, they just use them and they don’t ask permission and it totally makes sense that if people aren’t going to treat it with respect, somebody’s going to say, ‘No.’”
Helmer and Hinz both rebuked the suggestion that a few disrespectful tourists were to blame for the situation.
“It’s not a few people, it’s the majority of people,” Helmer said. “As far as I can tell, the majority of people are the ones that leave garbage on roadsides and trailsides. It’s the minority of people that actually clean up after themselves.”
“I meet very few people that leave no trace. That is very hard to come by,” Hinz added.
Gisele Martin is a Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardian who attended the blockade in support of Masso.
“These lands and waters we’ve been working to protect for generations and generations to build the biological diversity that is here and that work is ongoing during these early colonial times,” she said.
“We’ve not sold our land, we’ve not signed any treaties, people still come here and think of this as a wilderness, but these are places that we take care of and there have been increasing amounts of people coming to squat in these places without knowing where they are over the last few years, decades actually, and the pressure is really increasing. Especially right now with the threat of fire and the amount of garbage and disrespect that’s happening, it’s become an emergency.”
Another group using the area are West Coast residents unable to find accomodation in town whose only housing option is to camp in the backroads. Masso spoke to one of the residents during the blockade who identified themself as a representive of the community living there.
“They are quite calm and they are quite kind and they are welcome to change and also welcome to trying to find solutions to their problems,” Masso said. “I’m so honoured to see the people that do live back here saying that they’re respecting the land.”
The representative declined to comment to the Westerly News.
Masso’s brother Hjalmer Wenstob attended the blockade in support, suggesting the West Coast’s backroads have become “decimated” and it’s up to all the communities in the region to work together to prevent further destruction.
“I’m really thankful that Timmy is standing up to defend his territory,” Wenstob said. “Sometimes you need a bit of a shock to restart it all and I think that’s what Timmy wants to do today, to get that conversation no longer just murmurs in the background, but loud and heard.”
He suggested West Main is consistently full of cars and campers and the pollution has become a crisis.
“The amount of garbage that’s left behind when folks leave is what really is devastating, just a huge amount of disrespect for the territory,” he said. “I want to see our territory respected and looked after. I know that a lot of locals come and use these backroads as well, I understand that, but we have to make sure that we clean it up and do it properly. I’m always hopeful that we can do that and come together as communities to make sure that we’re looking after this place. Until then, it obviously needs a lot of work so I’m hoping to see a lot of people step up to do that work.”
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chief Councillor Moses Martin issued a statement calling for a meeting of regional leaders, Tourism Tofino and provincial and federal government officials “to find solutions to this critical issue.”
“The Nation has yearned for a better backcountry road management system for many years and has been actively trying to establish a fully resourced Guardian program, so that the guests in the backcountry are properly managed and having safe experiences in the Tribal Park,” Martin said through the statement. “Our current guardian workload only allows us to be on the backcountry roads once-per-week, which is insufficient to stem the tide of tourism that is in the Region.”