Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation leaders asked Tofino business owners to become Tribal Park Allies by contributing an annual Ecosystem Service Fee (ESF) at a Tofino Tribal Parks Tourism Summit held at the Tin Wis Best Western on Nov. 22.
Funds collected from implementing the fee will be dedicated for cultural projects, environmental restoration and conservation initiatives, and specific infrastructure projects like building a longhouse.
Tla-o-qui-aht Natural resources manager Saya Masso said participating in the program and becoming Tribal Parks Allies is an opportunity to lead Canada in a step towards reconciliation.
“It’s time for the First Nations community to benefit from tourism,” said Masso.
Most Tofino businesses operate within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, whose boundary lines include the municipality of Tofino, Meares Island, Long Beach, and Sutton Pass.
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne addressed the audience at the Tourism Summit.
“We need to be brave enough to have this conversation. It’s not easy, there are a lot of details, there are a lot of questions. They are good questions and I know that we come here with good hearts and we were able to sit down together at tables and have these difficult conversations,” said Osborne.
Tourism Summit host Jen Dart from the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce said the Chamber supports the concept.
“We will move forward with this in a spirit of openness,” said Dart.
During the question and commentary period, a Tofino business owner asked about the other First Nations in Clayoquot, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht, receiving equitable share of the revenues.
Tyson Atleo, a representative from the Ahousaht First Nation, said they are in support of the program in principle.
“We are interested in having conversations and how this will work for Ahousaht. We are very interested in having those collaborative conversations,” said Atleo.
Another representative from Tofino’s resort community raised concerns about double and triple dipping the tourists.
“How can I ask my guests to pay the fee for their accommodation and again when they go out to eat?” they said.
Masso said 2019 will be a trial year for the Tribal Parks Alliance Certification system. He stated the First Nation will commit to having an annual report, input from allies, and operate with transparency and accountability.
“It may not be perfect, but we had to start somewhere. I think it can work. We need to get it off the ground,” he said.
General manager at Tofino Sea Kayaking (TSK) Liam McNeil said the kayak tour company and winner of Tofino’s 2018 Small Business of the Year award has been collecting fees for Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks for at least a decade.
“We collect $4 for each person we take to Big Tree Trail on Meares Island. We have also donated staff time and resources for trail building,” said McNeil.
“I believe that building partnerships can benefit all parties. We have seen tangible benefits. The Big Tree Trail has been refreshed. We see the program delivering, and that gives me faith,” he said, adding that TSK takes thousands of guests to Meares Island every year. In 1984, Tla-o-qui-aht declared Meares Island a Tribal Park to protect the land from industrial logging. In 2014, all of Tla-o-qui-aht traditional territory was designated as Tribal Parks, including areas like Tofino Inlet, the Kennedy Lake watershed, the Upper Kennedy River, Clayoquot Lake, and the territory that falls within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
“I believe we created a tool that is going to change Canada. It is next level. It is the right thing to do. The time is now, that’s for sure,” said Masso.
The Westerly reached out to Tla-o-qui-aht for a copy of their five-year capital management plan for the Tribal Parks Allies program, but had not heard back by presstime. We will continue report on this matter as it develops.