His-Shuk-nish-tsa-waak - Where everything is one

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By Jim Barr for #IndigenousCoastBC

Tofino/Tla-o-qui-aht TerritoryWithin a few steps onto a tree-lined trail do you ever say to yourself, “Why don’t I do this more often?” You take a big breath – the fresh air drops to the bottom of your lungs and it wakes up your senses. You are ready to be where everything is one. Or, as the long time locals in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Territory on Vancouver Island say, His-Shuk-nish-tsa-waak.

Recently, I furthered my understanding of a natural connection, hiking Tla-o-qui-aht’s Big Tree Trail on famed Meares Island (Wanachus/Hilthuuis Tribal Park) with two nature connection experts. 

Time in Tofino and on Meares Island, both within Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, offers anyone the opportunity to take in air that is alive, to experience a turbulent ocean and this ancient forest that had a very close call with a cackle of chainsaws. Back in 1984, the forest on Meares Island was slated to be logged.

More than 850 people were arrested right here protesting the logging of Tla-o-qui-aht sacred territory. The area includes enormous 2,000-year-old giant Western Red Cedar trees that flourish here on Meares.

You could almost say that confrontation changed the way Canada looks at a forest today while it furthered Tla-o-qui-aht's commitment to keep their lands as the ancient ancestral gardens that they are. It brought to the forefront how people of the Pacific Northwest have lived in harmony with the land and have every right to keep it that way for the future. 

Please watch this video of Terry Dorward explaining Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks mission.

“By losing our language and our way of life, we lose our connection to the land, and without that, we are nothing as a society,” says Terry Dorward, Tla-o-qui-aht cultural ambassador and a lead within Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks Alliance.

Standing up for and protecting their landscape not only saved the forest, it's working to save their heritage.

“Without our connection to the land, we do not exist as Tla-o-qui-aht people,” says Dorward.

Terry Dorward has been fighting to preserve ancient ancestral gardens within Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Territory pretty much his entire life. “Without our connection to the land, Tla-o-qui-aht people would not exist"

Welcome to Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks Allies - a model alliance for the sustainability economy

Since before the ice age, people have lived along the Pacific NorthWest. We support Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks to ensure our connection to nature is kept sacred.

“Medicine men are not only forecasters to what is in store for our village, but they also have a spiritual connection to the land, a mystical existence within it; the forest, the oceans, the fresh water, all providing clues and a non-spoken dialogue that once interpreted, allowed our people to flourish,” said Dorward as we hiked further into the old-growth splendor.

The Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks Allies are a community of businesses within the territory that support the conservation and sustainable use of the surrounding lands. They help protect and maintain the lands for now and generations to follow.  You can see who the members of the alliance are here.

A Big Tree Trail hike on Meares Island along the trail is the perfect place to gain further connection on how nature and culture are one, or His-Shuk-nish-tsa-waak.

The Tribal Parks have existed for 36 years. Dorward and Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tribal Administrator and long-time Tribal Parks Guardian, and their team of Tribal Parks Allies have worked for more than 10 years on the sustainability of the Tribal Parks, access and further understanding of their culture to thousands of annual Tofino travellers.

This tree was seen around the world in 1984 as part of Canada’s biggest uprise, a symbol of ancient life dating back 1,500 years old

“The purpose of our work on the Big Tree Trail, is to empower people’s passion to this area and ideally for other protected areas, allowing the public to learn from and advance their appreciation for Mother Earth,” explains Masso.

As Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tribal Administrator, it’s Masso’s role to ensure the future of their land which equals the future of Tla-o-qui-aht people as they are viewed as one in the same.

Keeping this Meares island Tribal Park adventure in top shape are the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardians, funded by contributions made by Tribal Park Allies. 

Some of the trail includes a split cedar boardwalk set above the roots and precious plants with goals to build out the entire raised trail. The nation has spent 10 years working on it so far, and we can access it via Tribal Parks Allies like Paddle West Kayaking.  Please watch to this video that showcases Paddle West's Tribal Parks connection.

“We use a maul and a froe, two traditional tools that split the logs into planks,” explains Masso. “Building inventory (planks for the boardwalk) are prepared and transported, all without the help of any power tools, done as it would have been done hundreds of years ago.”

When you spend time in the forest, take time to listen to the sounds – or lack of sounds! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn and what you will take away. From time on Meares, you'll hike away connected to the earth with a renewed spirit and ideally, as Tribal Parks hopes, a quest to spur a sustainability agenda in your own community.

ZenSeekers is supporting the Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks Alliance. All donations are invested into Tla-o-qui-aht’s future preservation efforts including trail maintenance, territory guardianship, language and cultural advancement; efforts that we can all learn from.

When you go

  • Get relaxed, stay oceanside in the Tla-o-qui-aht owned Tin Wis Resort. Read this story and find five ways to relax in Tofino.
  • When in Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, the Tribal Park Allies and your hosts across Tofino ask you travel by the l'isaak (pronounced “E-sock”) – a pledge that says you will respect the land and keep it as you found it. Learn more about the Tribal Parks Alliance here.
  • Learn more about Indigenous culture and experience opportunities as we at ZenSeekers work with a series of West Coast First Nations in our #IndigenousCoastBC campaign. Follow along by searching the hashtag #IndigenousCoastBC and click here to learn more.
  • Support Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies, especially in 2020 when pressure is on trails like Tla-o-qui-aht’s Big Tree Trail while other areas of BC’s west coast remain respectfully closed. Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks efforts are funded through corporate and your donations, leaving a positive legacy from a recent, past or future visit.

  • For more on what happened over the past 25 years or so, please read to this CBC interactive story

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