Following the lead of the Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tribal Parks Movement, Tseshaht First Nation re-opened the Broken Group Islands (BGI) with a refreshed stewardship initiative called the ‘Beach Keepers Program’.
Tseshaht First Nation Elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts (Wahmeesh) says they have three Beach Keepers, plus one youth, that help with patrolling, monitoring, surveying and education.
“Our Beach Keepers are out there. They are the faces of the Broken Group Islands,” said Watts.
The BGI, a small group of islands in the middle of Barkley Sound, is the birthplace of and territory of Tseshaht First Nation. BGI is also part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Made up of more than 100 islands, the archipelago is a kayaker’s dream.
To help sustain the Beach Keepers Program, Tseshaht is encouraging operators to implement a $10 per day per guest “Beach Keeper fee”.
“We can’t just rely on parks to run the program all year-round. We need to generate other revenue and other opportunities to help pay for the program,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to do it as a Nation we just needed to take the initiative.”
Kayak guiding companies like Hello Nature Adventure Tours, Wild Root Journeys, and Majestic Ocean Kayaking had no issues stepping up.
“They see the value of the work our Beach Keepers do. These companies are a part of reconciliation,” Watts said.
“There are still several other operators that take kayakers out that aren’t charging it. I just think it has no harm on business, it’s a small amount, and it will help out the program. Every bit makes a difference right now.”
Majestic Ocean is one of the busier kayak operators out of Ucluelet. Owner Tracy Eeftink believes what Tseshaht is doing is smart.
“It’s their territory. They need to be recognized and included,” said Eeftink, going on to note that Majestic simply tacks the Beach Keeper Fee onto the invoice, similar to the Parks Canada permit.
“I’m just passing the cost on to the guests. It’s not a cost to me. Nobody has said anything. It’s just accepted and no one has complained or anything, so I’m quite happy to do it,” she said.
Over the 28 years of offering kayak tours to the BGI, Eeftink says her staff have taken training with the Tseshaht, but it’s not really their place to share that cultural history.
“They don’t really want us to be telling the stories. It’s their stories to tell. They come to the beach and say hello to the campers, and they are there to tell their stories. I think that’s really a special way to do it,” said Eeftink.
Gus Hank has been a Beach Keeper for almost a decade. He says he’s shared the creation story more times than he can remember. It’s also written on a plaque in three languages (English, French and Nuu-chah-nulth) on Benson or Tseshaht Island within the BGI.
“Broken Group Islands is a very beautiful place and we want to welcome people to that part of our territory,” said Hank.
Tseshaht First Nation is a coastal community of about 1,200 citizens. In 2018, there were 9,115 overnight users to the BGI and in 2019, there were 8,932, according to Parks Canada. The area was closed in 2020 to overnight night camping due to COVID-19.
“Parks Canada greatly values the relationship with Tseshaht First Nation. Parks Canada supports initiatives by First Nations, including the Tseshaht, to establish fees or protocols related to services they provide within their territories. Visitors are encouraged to contact the Tseshaht First Nation to learn more about their laws, protocols, programs and fees,” said Parks Canada communications officer Emma Badgery.
Visit https://tseshaht.com/ to learn more.