Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardians maintaining the Big Tree Trail at Meares Island, B.C.

Photo Credit: Jim Barr / Tribal Parks

Spotlight: Tribal Parks Guardians

A vision that's grown into a movement

Go for a hike and come back transformed

Living on VanIsle, we’re used to being surrounded by nature’s awesome beauty. But some places are even more impressive.

That’s how the Big Tree Trail feels on Wanachus Hilthuuis (Meares Island) off of Tofino. Hiking this trail will transform you.

Wanachus Hilthuuis is home to the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. They have a clear vision for the future with well-established roots in the past.

In the 1980s, clear-cutting threatened to destroy the Ancestral Gardens on Wanachus Hilthuuis. That kicked off the War in the Woods, the largest act of civil disobedience at that point in Canadian history. It put the region on an international stage, and created an environmental movement led by the Tla-o-qui-aht people.

It also led to the creation of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

The Tribal Parks’ ecologically vital movement takes land stewardship to a new level. In 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht chiefs declared the whole of Meares Island a Tribal Park. With this designation comes ancient responsibilities.

Terry Dorward is the Tribal Parks Coordinator. He says those responsibilities are “to ensure the well-being of the people and the land” and to share it with travellers so they can experience why these special places need to be protected and cared for.

“Our chiefs before in our 1984 delegations wanted to share the beauty of what nature has to offer,” he told ZenSeekers.

That beauty includes Western red cedar as old as 1,500 years. They are truly awe-inspiring and are among the oldest living lifeforms on earth. It’s profound to see these amazing trees in the ancient old-growth forest saved from industrial logging only a short while ago.

This year, Tribal Parks Guardians started improving the existing trail. They’re using funds donated from local businesses as part of the Tribal Parks Allies program.

Guardians built boardwalks from reclaimed wood around the base of popular giant trees along the trail. The boardwalks protect shallow roots that are exposed to lots of foot traffic. The District of Tofino also donated a composting toilet. It’s been installed at the trailhead.

The Guardians plan to extend the trail to reach a massive cedar harvest tree.

Tribal Parks replaced the old foam dock and gangway. They replaced it with an environmentally friendly dock made with air-filled floats thanks to a donation from Surfrider Pacific Rim and the Blue Friday Initiative.

Tribal Parks Guardian Riley Caputo told the Westerly News that the number of old growth trees on VanIsle isn’t enough to sustain cultural purposes like totem poles, long houses, and traditional canoes.

“It’s a sort of cultural genocide to harvest the remaining old growth. It is not sustainable,” he said.

“In the olden days, our people would always give a portion of, whether it was their catch back, or the richness they would give it to the traditional leadership, and in turn the hereditary chiefs would distribute it amongst the people,” explained Dorward.

“I think our Tribal Parks Allies program is putting that in a modern context, applying the principles in sharing the wealth. Then redistributing the wealth so that it goes back to our traditional laws, ensuring the well-being of all of the people and the environment.”

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