In 1984 Wanachis-Hilthhoois, colonially known as Meares Island was under threat of Clear-cut logging. MacMillan Bloedel paid and was granted permission by the provincial BC government to begin logging.
Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nation have the island within their hahuulthee or traditional territory. There had been no consultation or consent given by the two nations on this decision. Both Nations united, along with a (forming) local environmental group and residents of Tofino to halt logging on the island.
When the MacMillan Bloedel workers arrived to begin logging the island, they were given traditional welcome ceremony. The spokesperson for this welcome was the elected chief Councillor of Tla-o-qui-aht at the time, Moses Martin. A welcome comes with a responsibility to respect the values and laws of the people in stewardship authority of a place. The welcome to Meares was a welcome to a garden, with no logging allowed.
The logging company sought a court injunction against Moses Martin and anyone who would obstruct their logging operations.
Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht declared the island to be a Tribal Park, which, to this day is maintained as such. Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht also filed proceedings to block logging based on aboriginal rights and title to island.
The British Colombia Court of Appeal recognized that the land issue was unresolved, and put an injunction on the island to halt anything happening on the island until the land question was resolved. This action sparked Treaty negotiations with the First Nations beginning across BC in an attempt to resolve the land question.
To this day, BC and Tla-o-qui-aht have not signed treaties together after lengthy, but unsatisfactory negotiations. Tla-o-qui-aht territory is still unceded, indigenous land.
There is an important worldview and practice of land ownership among Nuuchahnulth nations. In traditional Tla-o-qui-aht law, land is not to be bought and sold for industries that mine or recklessly deforest. There is an inter-generational responsibility care-take all of our traditional territory. Knowledge of, observance, and sensitivity to this place are key in it’s ongoing abundance of life.
Since the Declaration of Meares/ Wanachis-Hilth-hoo-is Tribal park, the rest of Tla-o-qui-aht territory has also been declared in distinct sections to be Tribal Parks as well. They are Wanachis-Hilth-hoo-is Tribal park, Tranquil Tribal Park, Ha-ukmin Tribal Park, and Esowista Tribal Park.
The Tribal Parks vision is based within the local indigenous community. The idea is to uphold and re-instate the teachings, regulations and way that our ancestors took care of this place pre-colonization. There is also recognition that in todays’ modern world we must also find culturally and ecologically appropriate ways to share these Tribal Parks with the many visitors that our homeland receives.
The Tribal Parks vision is one that requires further internal community planning and capacity building, and recognition of indigenous management authority by the colonial government. Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks are held up by Tla-o-qui-aht people as a healthy way forward in a world with many infringing economic pressures. Tribal Parks hold up the vision of land stewardship in accordance with the traditional values of indigenous people; which maintained health on the living lands and waters in the area for thousands of years.
At the Big Tree Trail, one can connect with the unique ecosystem of our ancient forest gardens. There, the beauty of the hitaqtlas (forest) and the way First Nations very selectively harvested trees is visible and inspiring. This trail is to be a catalyst for people to connect with this living landscape, and to understand the importance of protection for these unique and sensitive living lands.
Old Cedar on Meares Island, Wanachis Hilth-hoo-is Tribal Park