Photo Credit: Kayakers at West Coast Expeditions

Paddle Politics To Boost Local Economy

West Coast Expeditions, which has operated for 50 years in Kyuquot Sound, is now under indigenous ownership

The Kyuquot/Cheklesahht First Nation hope to strengthen local tourism by buying a sea kayaking company

The Kyuquot/Cheklesahht First Nation (KCFN) has bought West Coast Expeditions, one of BC’s oldest sea kayak operations.

The sale, announced on May 10th, marks a new chapter for the company and the indigenous economy in Kyuquot Sound.

Located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, this remote and virtually roadless region is the traditional territory of the Kyuquot/Cheklesahht people. The nation is looking to diversify away from dependence on resource extraction and into more sustainable employment for its members.

The late Jerry Lang, an Okanagan College biology instructor, launched West Coast Expeditions in 1972. During the summer months, the company operates a base camp on Spring Island in the heart of Kyuquot Sound.

Rafts of sea otters, whales, and sea lions are frequent visitors to the surrounding waters. For the past few years, guests have been sharing Spring Island with a pack of wolves.

Dave Pinel, a North Island College instructor, owned and operated  West Coast Expeditions for more than 20 years with his partner Caroline Fisher. He’s excited about the company’s future under First Nation’s ownership.

“We’re grateful for the positive energy around this ownership change and associated opportunities that will build on our 50-year story, while boosting Indigenous ecotourism benefits for the community, our guests, and in BC, “Pinel said in a recent Facebook post.

Indigenous experience and education have long been a cornerstone of West Coast Expeditions. For example, the Jules family has hosted weekly salmon dinners on Spring Island for the company’s guests for many years. Last summer, Nuu-chah-nulth language instructor Tessie Smith joined the team to begin offering language instruction and conversation.

KCFN Marina and Campground Limited Partnership now own the company. Pinel will stay on in a management role to help with the transition over the next several years.

Gary Wilson, economic development officer for the KCFN group of businesses, said forestry still provides the most revenue. However, in an interview with writer Eric Plummer for Ha-Shilth-sa, an indigenous news publication, he said the nation is looking to strike a more sustainable balance with resource extraction.

“The nation’s vision is to have a sustainable, conservation-based economy. So we’ve got to start the balance there and make sure that those extractive businesses are done in a fashion that’s going to be respectful of the values of the nation,” Wilson said.