By Melissa Renwick
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
TOFINO B.C. – As Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians sang and drummed outside Gaia Grocery in Tofino, owner Amorita Adair was swept by emotions.
Through tears and a wide smile, she watched as the guardians thanked her for becoming a Tribal Parks ally in January.
“You helped us through our COVID-19 response, keeping our community safe through a really difficult time,” said Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks director of lands. “We want to lift you up as you lifted us up.”
Gaia was one of four businesses that guardians sang in front of.
It was a display of gratitude for those who strengthened the Tribal Parks Guardian program and helped the nation “make it through a tough year,” said Masso.
“It’s a symbolic gesture of support, reciprocating the support that our allies have given us,“ said Julian Hockin-Grant, Tribal Park liaison. “A lot of the revenue generated last year from our Tribal Park Allies went towards paying guardians to operate the emergency operations checkpoints in the villages.”
For Adair, becoming an ally was a natural choice. Given that she works, lives and plays on Tla-o-qui-aht territory, “it was important to give back to the community,” she said.
By supporting Indigenous stewardship of the land, Adair said it was a part she could play in reconciliation.
When businesses sign up to become allies, they agree to contribute a one per cent ecosystem stewardship contribution to the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks that is added to their service fees and paid by their clients.
By directing profits from the tourism industry, Masso said the service fee helps to reinvest in the stewardship and protection of the land and water within Tla-o-qui-aht territory.
The gathering was also held in anticipation of the province’s re-opening in hopes of revitalizing the conversation around the allies program, said Hockin-Grant.
“To remind some of these businesses, owners and operators, that now is a perfect time to download the protocol agreement and sign-up before things become busy again,” he said.
The collected funds are used first and foremost to hire and pay the salaries of Tribal Parks Guardians.
“They play an important role in monitoring and stewarding the Tribal Parks that benefit the whole region,” said Masso.
Guardians contribute to trail building and partner with organizations such as the Central Westcoast Forest Society and the Coastal Restoration Society to assist with salmon restoration projects and the removal of derelict boats, as well as abandoned aquaculture equipment along the coast.
Besides supporting the guardian program, the service fee is allocated towards the nation’s community services and other initiatives, such as the language program, explained Masso.
According to the Tribal Parks 2020 annual report, 29 new businesses became certified Tribal Parks Allies, more than doubling the number of allies from the previous year. A total of 56 businesses from across varying sectors of the tourism industry are allies.
Collectively, Tribal Parks Allies contributed $106,499 towards the nation’s guardian programs in 2020.
“From our Ha’wiih, our family, our elders and our community, we want to say thank you,“ said Masso. “Tleko, Tleko.”
Melissa Renwick is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the HA-SHILTH-SA. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.