Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks: A Vision to a Movement


“We are not talking about history; we are relearning who we are and what the present moment can be.” - a line from Camping at Metis Crossing revives connections, 

Interview with Terry Dorward
Audio file

Listen to Meares Island, hear Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tribal Parks story: an interview with Terry Dorward, program lead to one of the world’s leading Indigenous rights and title movements, #TlaoquiahtTribalParks.


Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation/Tofino – Yes this is the spot that is home to Canada's biggest civil uprising with over 2,000 being arrested back in 1984.  Why were they arrested?  Saving the Old Growth forest on Meares Island, just five minutes from downtown Tofino. 

BC travellers we challenge you to join a vision that's grown into a movement known as Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.  While experiencing a biodiverse dense landscape, like few others in the world, this is your chance to give thought and thanks to those who have been fighting to preserve and restore these ancient gardens.

When we talk community around here, we are not just speaking of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and the town of Tofino. Consider this region for what it is: one of the world’s most ancient gardens, home to old growth forests with healing powers.

Meares Island, home to Tla-o-qui-aht’s Big Tree Trail (a 10 min boat from Tofino’s Fourth Street Wharf); it’s here that you go for a hike and you come back transformed.  It’s not every day you get to stand in the presence of awesome, but when you do, you know it.

“Meares (Wah’nah’juss Hilth’hooiss) has significant importance; culturally, politically, socially, it is the birthplace of our Tribal Parks to stop clear-cutting happening in the 60s and 70s. As a response to unfair logging practices, Tla-o-qui-aht Chiefs declared this whole island a Tribal Park.   With this Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park designation, comes our ancient responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of our people and the land,” explains Dorward, program lead for Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

Within the 1984 Tribal Parks declaration, next to protection and restoration, it calls for people/travellers to share in the experience, to have a trail that takes them into the heart of these ancient gardens so they can experience what Tla-o-qui-aht are fighting for, and what they are working to protect and restore. The Big Tree Trail on Meares Island, “represents a gateway into our chiefs’ domain within their ha’huulthii (homeland),” says Dorward.

"To us, the Tla-o-qui-aht people, we believe the rain forest has spiritual powers, healing power.  It’s very close to our hearts, our songs and our dance. It came about from folks meditating in the forest. It’s like our church. Our chiefs before in our 1984 delegations, wanted to share in the beauty of what nature has to offer."

Tribal Parks Alliance stewards maintain trail on Meares Island, BC.
Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardians maintaining the Big Tree Trail at Meares Island, BC.

Why care about having a country with diverse backgrounds? Why don’t we just mow down every single tree we have? What is the point of preservation, why would anyone want to fight to keep their homeland intact?

These are questions colonial cultures have thrust upon Indigenous peoples across the world; in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Territory, which encompasses Tofino, the nation’s approach is an approach that could just be the world’s next best thing. Welcome to Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, visit here and leave transformed.

Tla-o-qui-aht's Tribal Parks vision that has now become a movement allows for anyone who is sharing in Tofino’s richness to share some of that “catch” back to the community. This can be in the form of a personal donation or, for a growing roster of over 75 businesses across the region who provide 1% of their profits into Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Society's coffers.  They donate so Tla-o-qui-aht Guardians can work together with the community to preserve and restore these homelands keeping the magic of Tofino/Tla-o-qui-aht as a healing place and a place of natural wonder.

Businesses in the region can help preservation efforts by becoming Tribal Parks Allies.

“By becoming a Tribal Parks Ally, you become part of the movement of like-minded folks who want to preserve this ancient rainforest. They want to contribute to healthy lifestyles, healthy employment from a sustainable economy rather than a resource economy, to leave this place in a better place for our grandchildren,” explains Dorward. “The support of the Tribal Parks Allies goes towards our front-line workers; Tribal Parks staff who are out on the land, it goes to stewardship programs, it goes to language programs, it goes to signage and infrastructure we need to build a sustainable economy.”

Old growth forests balance our everyday. For Tla-o-qui-aht’s First Nation, and many nations across Turtle Island (also known as North America), old growth forests represent their connection to the land that is millennia old. 

“In the olden days our people would always give a portion of, whether it was their catch back, or the richness they would give it to the traditional leadership and in turn the hereditary chiefs would distribute it amongst the people," Dorward explains. "I think our Tribal Parks Allies program is putting that in a modern context, applying the principles in sharing the wealth. Then redistributing the wealth so that its goes back to our traditional laws, ensuring the well-being of all of the people and the environment.”

How to support

Become a Tribal Parks Ally
Are you a business in Tofino? Join ZenSeekers #IndigenousCoastBC campaign, Tin Wis Resort, Hotel Zed Tofino, and all the others who donate 1% of revenues to the Tribal Parks Movement. 

Make a donation
Are you a traveler who has experienced Tofino within Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and returned different? Imagine the growth Tla-o-qui-aht's vision could achieve should every traveler leave $50 or $100 as a small gesture of gratitude for the experience; a tip to the Tribal Parks vision and an acknowledgment of the moment; you are leaving a legacy empowering the future.

Support the Allies
Patronize the epic businesses across Tofino and the region (full list here) who, when you support them, support the protection and restoration of this ancient destination. 

Stay Tin Wis and Support Indigenous
Choose Tin Wis Resort to stay the next time you visit Tofino – a stellar resort on Mackenzie Beach owned by Tla-o-qui-aht Nation (one of only three beaches in Tofino where beach fires are allowed). Watch for Tla-o-qui-aht’s new Tsawaask Campground opening late 2021/early 2022.

Support Indigenous across the county – find other Indigenous travel experiences and businesses via Indigenous Tourism Canada, at

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