The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation improves protection of ancient monument trees for the benefit of the community and future generations.

Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Natural wonders abound and preserving them for future generations is paramount to the well-being and prosperity of our communities. As stewards of the land for thousands of years, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in Tofino understand how the land connects us to the past, sustains us in the present and ensures a legacy for tomorrow.

Image of a cedar tree, close up, with moss covered bark.

The First Nation also understands environmental sustainability not as a form of management but as a practice, ʔiisaak: observing, appreciating, and acting accordingly. To this end they established Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, which encompass the largest intact remaining rain forest on Vancouver Island. Saya Masso, Manager of Lands and Resources for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation says millions of people visit the Tribal Parks each year. “The landscape isn’t just wilderness; it is our cultural space, so balancing access and preservation is key to our sustainability and prosperity,” he says.

Close up of a cedar branch with water droplets.

One popular spot for visitors is the Big Tree Trail on wanačas hiłhuuʔis (Meares Island Tribal Park). Accessible only by boat with a small floating dock, it meant visitors had to scramble up the rocky shoreline and traverse muddy trails to get to the ‘Big Tree,’ a 2,000-year-old Western Red Cedar. Covered in moss and lichen, it is known as the Hanging Garden. Saya says the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation recognized the area could benefit from improvements.

We wanted to protect the environment but also improve the visitor experience.

~ Saya Masso, Manager of Lands and Resources for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Working with 4VI and Julian Hockin-Grant, of locally owned Allied Certifications, a plan was developed that included a new aluminum dock for people to get on shore, upgraded trails and a viewing boardwalk around the Hanging Garden to keep visitors from damaging the root system. “This improves safety and accessibility, while protecting the old growth forest,” Julian says. In addition, at the trailhead, a a qwayaćiik figure depicting Tla-o-qui-aht laws has been commissioned by a local Tla-o-qui-aht artist and will be erected at the trailhead.

The 4VI funding was also instrumental in helping to retain additional Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks’ Guardians year-round. New Guardians will develop construction experience, interpretive skills, and receive practical and cultural training on the job. Saya says the Guardians will host interpretive tours on the Big Tree Trail and other sites within the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. “It is a great example of people coming together for the benefit of everyone in the community.”

Eco-Tourism | Sustainability

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