Rebuilding with purpose: Ahousaht First Nation’s stewardship-led tourism development

David Archer

19 March 2024

“It’s our time right now to rebuild. And the rebuilding process, like I said, is long overdue.” – Hasheukumiss (Richard George), Ahousaht Hereditary Chief



Located just north of Načiks (Tofino), British Columbia, the Ahousaht First Nation is having a long-awaited resurgence. As the Ahousaht work to restore their lands and waters from de-forestation and other negative impacts of industry, they are also starting to harness tourism in new ways, as a force for economic development, environmental stewardship, and healing for a people and a culture that have long been marginalized.

On Travel Beyond, we hear about the stewardship solutions emerging from the Ahousaht First Nation. Our guests are Hasheukumiss (Richard George), Head Hereditary Chief, and ?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo), also a Hereditary Chief. They are co-owners of Ahous Adventures, which operates as a social enterprise on behalf of their Nation. They also lead the Maaqutusiis Hahoutlhee Stewardship Society (MHSS), a non-profit seeking to protect the environment and build economic opportunities.

These leaders are taking action to make sure the positive aspects of tourism turn into meaningful and lasting benefits for the next generations on Ahousaht territory. The implementation of a voluntary stewardship fee and the use of a newly-purchased resort and a place of healing are two inspiring examples other destinations can learn from.


“This is a landscape and marinescape that has provided for generations of our ancestors for as long as we know. And it’s never failed us, and we have never failed it, even to this day.” – ?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo), Ahousaht Hereditary Chief


In this episode of Travel Beyond, you’ll learn about:

  • How the Ahousaht First Nation is regaining its ability to control its destiny in tourism through economic development projects and a social enterprise.
  • How the Ahousaht Stewardship Fund is helping to restore habitats by collecting a voluntary percentage of tourism revenue. 
  • How tourism experiences are allowing the Ahousaht First Nation to share its culture.
  • Two pieces of wisdom Hasheukumiss and ?ikaatius learned from previous generations.
  • Advice for other communities looking to improve tourism’s positive impacts.



Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player to join us on this journey.


With thanks to Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this podcast season, and to the many community members, including leaders and Elders from Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, for entrusting us with their stories. 


Show notes

The Travel Beyond video trailer for the Načiks (Tofino) season

Ahous Adventures – An Ahousaht tour company sharing their culture, language and history.

Ahousaht First Nation – A First Nation located on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino. 

Maaqutusiis Hahoutlhee Stewardship Society (MHSS) – A non-profit organization leading stewardship and economic development efforts for the Ahousaht First Nation.


Episode transcript

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): 

We control our own destiny with the funds we get in from the stewardship program. Not only bringing back our trees and stewarding that way, but we’re, we’re rebuilding our rivers.

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo):This is a landscape and marinescape that has provided for generations of our ancestors for as long as we know. And it’s never failed us, and we have never failed it, even to this day. 

David Archer: Hello, and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to bring you inspiring solutions to the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet. I’m David Archer from Destination Think, and I’m recording from Dajingeeds, British Columbia, a village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Tyler Robinson: And I’m Tyler Robinson, Climate Strategist at Destination Think. I’m recording from Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. On this show, we look at the role of travel and highlight destinations that are global leaders.

We talk to the change makers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up.

David Archer: And we’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. Please do reach out if you have a story for us. You can reach me at david @ DestinationThink. com, or you can find Destination Think on social media. 

Last episode, we kicked off our season in the Canadian west coast community of Tofino, British Columbia by speaking with Brad Parsell of Tourism Tofino and Moses Martin of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

We heard all about the closure of Tofino for 17 days last summer due to wildfires, and how the community has responded. And we also learned a little about how local First Nations have been stewarding the land surrounding this modern-day vacation spot for millennia, a process which continues today in some new and surprising ways.

This time we’ll hear from two leaders from the Ahousaht First Nation about how they’re using tourism to rebuild economically, to share their culture with visitors, and also begin to bring healing in some ways and control their destiny again as a Nation in the wake of colonization and its ongoing repression.

Tyler, there’s just so much packed into this episode, but I want to point out one solution in particular. The voluntary stewardship fee that the Ahousaht Nation has implemented. This is a way for businesses and visitors to help fund environmental restoration led by the Ahousaht. And at Destination Think and throughout this podcast, we’ve been discussing ways travel can support sustainability in various forms.

In your work as a strategist, how are you thinking about travel’s financial impact on climate solutions?

Tyler Robinson: This is actually something I think about quite a bit. I might be a little bit alone with that, but it’s a, it’s a concept that gets me excited if it gets applied effectively in a destination, just because I think it can be so impactful for some of the objectives that communities have. 

These stewardship fees, whether they’re called stewardship fees or visitor levies, or, they can come in, in many different names, but they’re becoming more common as a way to account for the impacts that visitors have when they visit a place. And it’s really about paying the real price of, of moving through a space. Because when you think about it, when you buy a, hotel, a stay at a hotel, or an airline ticket, or anything else that you might purchase in and around a destination, these don’t cover the true impacts that a visitor might have either culturally, environmentally or on, in terms of infrastructure strain, or some other impact.

And so some sort of stewardship fee, if it’s collected in adequate amounts and, and allocated to priority projects that the community really needs, can be a powerful mechanism for travel to account for its impacts and, and have a positive impact. Because we like to talk about travel as a force for positive impact, but we kind of need to get to neutral, have a neutral impact before we can even broach the conversation of having a net positive impact.

And this stewardship fee is an encouraging example of how we can take positive steps in that direction.

David Archer: Yeah, I hope you don’t feel too alone thinking about stewardship fees. Maybe you should have a cup of coffee with, uh, Signe Jungersted, from a few episodes ago. She’s a self-described tourism tax nerd. Uh, but anyway,

Tyler Robinson: Sounds like we have a lot in common.

David Archer: Yeah, exactly. One important part of the economic piece for destinations and businesses is to be able to demonstrate where those travel dollars are going.

And we saw that with the economic nutrition label from Fogo Island Inn that you and I talked about a few episodes back. Can you tell us a little bit about economic leakage and what that is? 

Tyler Robinson: Yes. You’re bringing up all the nerdy things that occupy my mind when I should be going to sleep at night. 

David Archer: Excellent.

Tyler Robinson: Um, uh, I guess I’d say that beneath the surface, travel and tourism is, can be at least in some cases, more extractive than people understand. And what I mean by this is that when we visit a community, very few cents of every dollar we spend sometimes actually stays within the community.

The money that flows outside is leakage. So for example, if I go back to different purchases we might make when we’re visiting or when we’re traveling, um, when we book a flight, that money can often go to an international airline. When we stay at a hotel, that might be owned by a collection of foreign investors. When we use a booking engine, a percentage of that, often a significant percent, goes to an international company. And even when we eat a meal at a restaurant that’s local, maybe that food wasn’t grown locally. Maybe it was flown in. So when we start to run these calculations, it can be quite confronting how little really stays within a local community.

And as visitors, we can be more conscious of how we spend our dollars. And as destination managers and marketers, we can be more intentional about stewarding a destination in a way that maximizes the benefits to residents.

David Archer: Yeah, and now we’ll turn to our conversation with two people who are working to make sure tourism benefits locals, places, and culture. Hasheukumiss, Richard George, is the Head Hereditary Chief from Ahousaht First Nation, and ?ikaatius, Tyson Atleo, is also a Hereditary Chief, and they’re both co-owners of Ahous Adventures on behalf of Ahousaht First Nation.

They’re joined by Elena Jean, who sat in with our team for this one. She’s a longtime former local of Tofino and the co-director of a wonderful documentary film called Coextinction. Here we go.

 ?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): My name is ?ikaatius, Tyson Atleo. I represent one of the three principal hereditary chieftainships of the Ahousaht First Nation, and I am a co-owner of Ahous Adventures in trust on behalf of the Ahousaht First Nation.

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): My name is Hasheukumiss, Richard George, 18th-generation Tyee to hold this title for my father, Maquinna, I’m the president of MHSS tasked with economic development for our nation, as well as stewarding the lands and the waters, as well as protecting the best interests of our [Ahousaht word], which is our people from the Ahousaht Nation.

Elena Jean: Can you go into detail a little bit more? What does that mean specifically, your role and MHSS? 

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): So MHSS, Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society, was formed over a decade ago by ?ikaatius and my father, Maquinna, and the other hereditary. And the vision with MHSS was to steward our lands and our forests with the protocols that come in.

So, tasked with economic development, as we’re in this office right now called Ahous Adventures. It was once called, Ocean Outfitters, so it’s a pretty huge monumental achievement for our nation to get into the tourism industry. We’ve been on the sidelines for the last 30 years because of the financial costs of owning a business such as this.

So through our protocol, we have an agreement with Cermaq Canada, we were able to achieve financial benefits to purchase this entity, as well as the Tofino Wilderness Resort as well. So the Tofino Wilderness Resort is, is a turnkey tourism operation. We’ve chosen to go into mental health and wellness for our nation going forward, alongside tourism.

So looking at the wellness side of it, we want to have modeled the concept from a September to June. And during July, August continue our wellness with the children holding day camps on that, along with working with Tourism of Tofino, um, doing day trips to showcase our culture, our song and our dance, our traditional foods, to give the world a taste of what they’ve been craving, um, for far too long.

I’ve been in the tourism industry here in Tofino for 28 years with a family business called the House of Himwitsa Native Art Gallery. And all I’ve heard for that whole duration when I work for our family business is really the yearning for a true connection to our Indigenous culture. So by listening over the last 25 years and having an opportunity now to really put our right foot forward in economic development in the tourism sector.

We’ve knocked out a couple of really big achievements, and one of them being in this office here, creating 28 jobs for the Nation. And, um, what we’re looking at, the wellness center is going to easily create another 35 jobs to go alongside what we’re, what we’re tasked to do. So, really exciting times.

you know, this is our first step of many, as far as I’m concerned, on where we’re going with MHSS and other, other properties that we’ve purchased over the years is [Ahousaht name] which is over at Lone Cone, where they’re as The residential school Christie site was at, and so we have economic development going there in the future after the residential school findings happen. We’re looking at another venture going up at the hot springs. There’s a lot of good movement going up at the hot springs and, and, uh, one of the things that we’re exploring right now is, is redirecting those thermals into our reservation area to create man-made springs comparable to, um, Pemberton, and putting, uh, overnight accommodations, as well, over there.

So by the time we’re all said and done in the next five years, we will have created the equivalency of well over 200 jobs. And with the, the job security in our nation right now, there is only 200 jobs there currently. There’s over 1,100 people in our nation, so the need to create jobs is what we’re tasked for at MHSS.

And now that we’ve achieved two big purchases, we have our eye on, on many more ventures going forward.

Elena Jean: Okay. Amazing. That’s very exciting.

 In a greater context, what does it mean to give that kind of power back to your community to be running the travel businesses here in Tofino? 

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): Long overdue. Like I mentioned earlier, you know, we’ve, we’ve been at a point because of this, the, the fallout of colonization to begin with, if we start there. And we look at the effects of what residential schools bestowed upon our nation, not only our people, but Indigenous in general, you look at the Sixties Scoop, and to this day, you look at, at [Ahousaht word] and the continuation of what the hurt, the underlying hurt our people have always had.

So now, going forward, the importance of creating these jobs and giving a real sense of purpose. And this is what we’ve really been lacking because of the cultural genocide, the cultural teachings and learning of what happened through the residential schools. It’s our time right now to rebuild. And the rebuilding process, like I said, is long overdue.

We’ve been really hindered because of the financial costs of tapping into any tourism venture. So the importance now moving forward, as I mentioned, with the 200 jobs that we just have in Ahousaht, that we’re now opening up and giving the youth of the next generation a real viable option.

We have 28 people that I mentioned that we’ve created here, the non-indigenous that are working for us. They know they have a, there’s a five-year phase out plan when our nation gets healthy.

Then, we’ll integrate our people in here to work alongside the non-Indigenous to be trained. As soon as they’re trained, they’ll be phased out and our Indigenous will be solely working here. And which is going to take time, because of the state of where we are right now. And,

When I’m, when I’m talking about the state of our nation, the suppression from the residential school, from the Sixties Scoop, and what has fallen out of that is the alcoholism. The alcohol that comes into my Nation is very alarming, not only my Nation, other Nations that are smaller communities, not only in BC, but right across Canada has played an adverse impact on our ability to hold jobs.

So now healing is a very big aspect and this is the second component of the TWR. It’s a multi 6.5-million dollar resort where we could have turnkeyed and went right into the tourism industry and started making a lot of profit. But for us, what we’re weighing in on is the next generations that we’re going to heal from the intergenerational trauma, so they actually can get into the workforce and work and not be reliant on the welfare system.

So everything that we’re doing, um, again, moving forward is, many firsts for our nation and, uh, it’s a, it’s a slow process, which is, is, uh, finally, we have the ability to control our destiny when it comes to the tourism sector now by providing these jobs. Uh, if Tyson wants to further this?

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): Sure. So

the Ahousaht Hereditary Chiefs have a responsibility on behalf of the Ahousaht people to steward our lands and waters, resources within, establish partnerships and relationships with other beings and other entities that are using and accessing our territories.

And so there are a variety of ways that we can reimagine that spiritual and historical responsibility of the hereditary chiefs. And, um, several of those ways include managing economic development and managing stewardship. And so economic development in an area like our haḥuułii – haḥuułii means territorial lands and waters, and all the resources and people within it – include managing access, managing for resource management, both terrestrial and marine, and of course tourism as well.


Hereditary Chiefsoperate two organizations. The Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society, which is, as described, a stewardship society responsible for developing and implementing stewardship programs in our territory. So that, primarily, is our guardian program, but includes restoration and enhancement of our watersheds. It includes implementing a voluntary ecosystem service fee in the region, which allow visitors to contribute to the ongoing restoration and management of the territorial resources here, implementing research protocols and other partnerships and relationships. Underneath the Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society, we have the Ahous Business Corporation, which operates the only dedicated public ferry service between Maaqutusiis and Tofino.

It also operates the Ahous Fuel Station, which is a community service we provide to Ahousaht by operating an at-the-margin fuel station in Ahousaht, amongst other programs. 

We also own in trust. And what I mean by that is that the hereditary chiefs own the Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Enterprises Inc. Corporation, but we hold it in trust, meaning we can never earn dividends from the revenues or sale of that company. And so it’s a true social enterprise in that all revenues earned through the operations of that company are invested directly back into the well-being initiatives of our home community.

And so we co-own in trust that business. And that includes the operating of the Tofino Wilderness Resort and Ahous Adventures.

 And so our day-to day-looks often like ensuring that our cultural values, social, economic and political interests are respected by visitors to our home territory in all sectors.

It also looks like us increasing the capacity of our community to participate in those sectors that we have been historically marginalized from, in particular, the tourism sector. 

So as Hasheukumiss has said, you know, for many, many years, since the start or the beginning of tourism in this region, our people have been excluded from opportunities. Uh, we’ve been marginalized from the sector almost entirely.

You have a potential labor market here in the region that could be served by members of our community. But there has been no historical effort to ensure that there are reasonable means of transportation and training to get members of our community from our village of Maaqutusiis into Tofino, for example.

So that’s our responsibility in our day-to-day, is to ensure that we correct that marginalization. We take ownership and control of it because that is what our responsibility is, which includes investing in businesses like Ahous Adventures and the Tofino Wilderness Resort.

Elena Jean: Could you talk a bit about what you want the public-facing experience to be when they walk in the doors here, into Ahous Adventures? What do you want them to be experiencing? Maybe that’s a little bit different than maybe what other tourism companies are offering as well.

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): Ahous Adventures represents an opportunity for the Ahousaht people to show the world who we are, and to have people understand our culture and traditions and deep connection to our territorial lands and waters, and the cultural values and principles that we believe in and act on in stewardship of those lands and waters.

And so we know, around the world, people are desperate for more meaningful connection to natural systems that give us life, where we know, culturally, exist great wealths of knowledge and senses of well-being that come from that connection. 

And so what we hope for visitors joining us at Ahous Adventures is a connection to who the Ahousaht people are, our stories, our way of life, our values, and really the state of the marginalization of our community from the tourism economy and their opportunity to contribute to correcting that over time. So not only learning from our culture and well and ways of life, but finding through that more meaningful connection to place and then an opportunity to contribute and feel good about contributing to its ongoing stewardship. And so we hope people come into Ahous Adventures and feel welcomed and feel like it’s a unique experience in terms of its direct connection to our Indigenous community and cultures, and that there’s an opportunity for them to give back. 

And so I know Hasheukumiss has a vision that he shared with us all, that we all support, where people can actually actively contribute to on-the-ground stewardship activities as tourism opportunities as well. And perhaps you can ask him to speak a little bit more about that. 

Elena Jean: Yes, that is actually 100 percent what I wanted you to dig into next, was stewardship. 

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): Well, this is, uh, really exciting. A little bit more about what we have to offer here at Ahous Adventures compared to the other operators that are coming into the territory. Not only to go and participate in the whale watching, bear watching, and the hot springs, and it’s Indigenous knowledge. It’s our place names, it’s our history. You know, a lot of people don’t realize we, just like the Canadian government, we had major wars here. We defended fiercely our fishing rivers. There’s 13-year battles. Tens of thousands of people have been lost. 

So, you know, the, the history alone, with our, our main boat drivers, four of them, that we have Indigenous, that they’re able to now really shed light and open up the true communications on whose territory you’re in, the haḥuułii. And really explain in depth about why we, why we as Ahousahts are here, and I’ve heard this repetitively, with uh, the comments that keep coming in, that our, the tour operators that we have are, are just phenomenal with the knowledge that they are able to, to bring to the tourism. True Indigenous knowledge.

Um, we have a Guardian shack that, uh, was open up at the hot springs and BC Parks, uh, we brokered a deal and we’ve enclosed that. So we have an overnight accommodations for our Guardians to stay five months of the year up at the hot springs. And what Tyson was, uh, Akkadius was saying earlier that we’ve negotiated a deal with BC Parks where Ahous Adventures and all Indigenous ventures from Ahousaht will get access in the morning. Tourism Tofino will get it in the mid-afternoon, and then we, as Ahousaht, we’ll close it off in the evenings. 

What our guests will receive when they get there is, is this last year, we had one of our, guardians who was a singer. So as they come in, one of the first things that he started to do was sing them a song as they got to the dock. So they were really, for the first time, getting a, a real cultural experience perspective. And getting to hear our language, getting to hear our songs, and getting to hear the stories crucial to know the backyard that you’re in. And the backyard that you’re in, make no mistake about it, is in our Ahousaht territory. 

Now eventually, when we take people to the hot springs from Ahous Adventures now, on the way back, we’re going to drop people off at a place called White Pine. If they choose this option, they’ll be able to bring their families into the clear cutted area and re-tree plant now, giving back to Mother Earth, because we’re in global warming right now. What better way for the tourism community to put their right foot forward, than to keep our biosphere in pristine condition?

And so again, once they plant their tree, not only will they leave a legacy behind, 

the families that I’ve seen and made friends with over the last 30 years, they don’t stop coming. They continue coming, because this is such a special area for them, and as they’ve grown up as children, they bring their children, so it’s a repetitive theme. Once they’ve done their tree planting, they’ll be dropped off at our resort, over at TWR, and we’re gonna tie this in with a cultural event, traditional barbecue that we have, which is called [Ahousaht word] story and dance, performed amongst our children.

 So we’re really thinking outside the box here. Giving the tourism another avenue to really contribute back, other than giving us financial dollars They could physically go in a tree being planted and revisit that tree for the next 30 years and watch that tree grow up. 

 So we have some really good opportunities here to really integrate the tourism on land, on the water, and to really bring back what uh, has kept this place pristine for millennia. 

Elena Jean: I’m going to jump over just to ask you about the volunteer stewardship fee. If you could explain what that is, and we’ll hop over to you Tyson to answer that.

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): MHSS offers the opportunity for people to participate in a voluntary ecosystem stewardship fee program. And so this is a program where business operators, or individuals, or families visiting our territories can voluntarily contribute to the ongoing restoration, enhancement, and stewardship of Ahousaht haḥuułii – territorial lands and waters. And so the fee program for business operators, because it’s voluntary, they can collect directly from their guests and provide that right back to MHSS. For individuals or families visiting the territories, they can pay directly online or by visiting the Ahous Adventures or MHSS offices. And it’s a tiered system, recognizing that not everyone is here causing the same level of impact.

And so this is about responding to the impact that the tourism community specifically has on the ecosystem here. So if we’re the organization and the people responsible for mitigating that impact, then, you know, we’re asking for that voluntary contribution to the effort and work that is required to do so. We hope in the long-term future that, as our rights as the Ahousaht First Nation as an Indigenous government increase over time, we expect to implement mandatory fee systems for access to certain terrestrial and marine spaces in our haḥuułii. We are seeing that happen around the world, and it’s as a result of damage to the ecosystem from increased traffic over that ecosystem. And we’re, because we are the people living here, responsible for mitigating that. And so we will see it change from voluntary to mandatory over time. Absolutely. 

We’re very, very grateful to the businesses and individuals that are believing in that system and that understand the value of their contribution. And we’re very committed to ensuring that we are reporting back to those contributors to the program exactly what is going on with the use of those funds over time.

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): Yeah, and, uh, you know, when we’re talking about our stewardship program, one of the things that just really stick out to me is, when I first came into my role four years ago, I started to get my claws into everything. And one of the things I got my claws into was the salmon enhancement. And talking to Doug Palfrey, who’s been swimming our rivers alongside Indigenous for the last 28 years, been screaming blue murder for more funds.

He only has received $8,000 a year, and has only received $8,000 a year for the last 25-plus years. Where other enhancement facilities in B.C. will get up to a million dollars, Robertson Creek, uh, Nitinat, other facilities that don’t get the million dollars will get minimum $180,000. So, you know, when we’re looking at, again, the stewardship program that we’ve implemented, one of the things that, right off the bat, that we wanted to do is address salmon enhancement and bringing back and helping out Doug Palfrey and the Tofino Enhancement.

Even though it says Tofino, those rivers that he’s, he’s been swimming, they’re, 90 percent of them, if not 95, are in our territory. So, we’ve been able to give him well over $40,000 plus in the last three years. That comes directly from our stewardship funds to address salmon enhancement. And he’s been able to not only fill our hatchery in [Ahousaht name].up in Ahousaht with 30,000 smolts last year, but he was able to put in, um, equivalency of 60,000 that went up Bedwell and Atleo as well. 

So, you know, the, the funds that we’re receiving go straight back into this biosphere. You know, the trees that we’re going to be ordering to re-tree plant and giving the tourism an opportunity to, to give back. Well, those, that’s where the money’s coming from, coming from to buy those trees.

So again, not only with those two initiatives, what we’ve seen the guardianship do is really open up the eyes to the tourism community, you don’t need to be Indigenous to be a guardian. What I’ve seen, the fight at the very beginning of this implementation, not a lot of tourism companies jumped on board. Well, this is the second year and we have, uh, really, really well received in our second year. I’d have to say over 80 percent of the businesses have jumped onboard because they’ve seen the value of what we’re trying to achieve, not only with the salmon enhancement, the trees, but making the routes safer, going up to the hot springs with emergency, uh, routes, stay overs for the kayakers, bathroom facilities. Caches for their food as well, on the way up there. 

Elena Jean: What is your connection to this area?

Not just generally, why is this place special or amazing, but to you specifically.

 What makes this area special in, in the global context? Because, you know, we’re interviewing people all over the world. 

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): Our home territories are special to all Ahousahts. We all can trace our lineages back thousands and thousands of years to what we consider to be time immemorial from this landscape. This is a landscape and marinescape that has provided for generations of our ancestors for as long as we know. And it’s never failed us, and we have never failed it, even to this day. 

And so it’s a place of pride for us in terms of its current status. You know, we still have some of the last remaining old growth coastal temperate rainforest in the world here. We have a relatively healthy marinescape and are working actively on the risks to both the terrestrial and marine environments.

But from a family and cultural perspective, our haḥuułii, our territories, give us all that we need to survive. And it also gives us all the knowledge we need to be good human beings on the planet. Now, unfortunately, uh, natural resource policy, for example, has distanced itself, uh, through Government of Canada and Government of British Columbia from those natural systems and from the historic protocols that we, as the Ahousaht people, human beings, had with the life-giving, non-human beings of our region.

And so Ahousaht territories are incredibly important, because we still have the knowledge and stories about how to maintain those connections that the world is desperate for. And we’re doing our best to unlock those, while still maintaining true to who we are as a people, and still adapting to the constantly evolving ecosystem and, and policy landscape around us.

And so this is our home. And it’s the home to all Ahousahts, whether or not they have official Ahousaht status under the Indian Act. Or, or not. If they have any connection to our community, by family, then they are Ahousaht. And they belong to these territorial lands and waters, more so than any other humans on the planet.

And they all share in the right to that connection, and in the right to those protocols, and the understanding of our culture. And we’re wanting to rebuild that, and we’re wanting to rebuild it in a way that is also respected by others. The non-Ahousaht people that choose to visit and choose to associate with us.

 This is our lifeblood, if you will. I think of our salmon-bearing watersheds as the arteries of this living system which has given birth to our people, and has sustained our people, not unlike a mother does for its children. And that’s what Ahousaht haḥuułii means to us. 

Elena Jean: Okay, beautiful. Thank you so much. Um, would you like to,

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): For me, I have a different take on this, being born and raised here, lived in the community of Tofino my whole life. I’ve seen many changes come through this town. We were a logging and a fishing community when I was a child, all the way up until I was roughly around 15 years old.

35 years ago, that’s what this mainstay was. There was no whale watching, there was no, uh, fishing charters. There wasn’t a road that was paved in here until the seventies. There wasn’t even a road in here until the early forties and, and before that it was by plane.

So for me, you know, when I’m looking at the changes that have happened, not only with industry that have come in and really have pillaged, as I mentioned, the forests. You would think that the four major players around the world would have a better heart to come back and rectify the damages that they’ve done, not only by re-tree planting, but restoring our 18 rivers that they destroyed.

You know, we’re in the midst right now of restoring two. Unfortunately, nine of our rivers will never be restored because of the devastation and the lack of, of addressing them. 

All of our resources outside of fishing have been devastated. This was our grocery store. A lot of people don’t understand, our ocean and our, and our lands – that’s where we went to go shop. That’s when we did all of our work. The stories are true when you, they said you could walk across those rivers. Well, what’s happened within the last 100 years? Well, when we’re talking about industry and the bigger players coming in and the technology, when you’re able to come in and scoop up 65,000 tons in one scoop, that’s unprecedented and unheard of.

 So for me, when I’m looking at what we’re doing at MHSS and not only bringing back our trees and stewarding that way, but we’re, we’re rebuilding our rivers.

Nobody has addressed what we’ve addressed above and beyond, and we’ll continue to do it, because this is what we’ve been put here to do. And as, as ?ikaatius mentioned earlier, our roles as hereditary is to do exactly that. Not only steward the lands and the waters, but to make sure that our resources are sustainable and the job opportunities moving forward for our people.

Elena Jean: What’s one of the best, if you have, you don’t have to answer this, but if something jumps to mind, what’s a piece of advice from, that you’ve received from a previous generation that stands out to you as a, one of the best pieces of advice that you’ve received in the work that you’re trying to do, leaning in the stewardship direction, but that connects, of course, to the, to the cultural and the socioeconomic.

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): Well, for me, I’ve been told many times by my past elders is, we’ve got to be very cautious on taking the last of the last. Once the last of the last is gone, there’s no replacing it. So hence on what we’re doing with our forest, rebuilding and not taking the last of the last. What we’re trying to achieve with salmon enhancement, bringing back and not taking the last of the last of the salmon.

So I think it’s really, really protecting what we have and making sure that, again, it’s sustainable and, and what we can provide for the next generations. 

Elena Jean: Yeah, last of the last is a powerful idea and very, you know, ever-present in the world that we live in today. So, 

Thank you, um, all right, we’ll go back. uh, what’s a piece of advice that you received from a past generation?

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): We received the same advice from our Elders, consistently over time and over our lives. And the phrase that comes to mind most recently is from our Elder and relative Wickaninnish, Cliff Atleo Sr., who we go to for guidance and advice on a regular basis. And his most frequent message is to never, ever, let go of the hereditary governance for Ahousaht, because it has not been made by man.

It is a gift from the creator. And it’s a gift that demands several things of us. Selflessly, to the best of your abilities, to look after your people and to look after your haḥuułii, which is inclusive of people, but your territorial lands and waters. And so what does that look like in practice?

Well, you will not find, in Canada, arguably, a stronger-community based advocate for health and well being than Hasheukumiss, for addressing substance abuse issues and domestic and sexual violence. 

You know, take care of your people. But how do you get to the root of taking care of those people? Well, what do people need, right? They need safety, they need security, they need love, they need vocation. That’s a part of what this organization is responsible for, ensuring that we can rebuild vocation. We’re dismantling 150 years of destructive policies and marginalization of our people. And so we need to rebuild roles and responsibilities and senses of well-being for our community members.

Historically, our governance system, [Ahousaht name] had a role and responsibility for everybody in the community, right? Again, a gift from the Creator. Everyone was provided for if we adhered to the policies that are prescribed by that system. Intentionally dismantled. Rebuild it.

Never, never let go of it, so you can take care of your people, and take care of your haḥuułii.

You know, we have issues with climate change, and my regular day job. I am the Climate Program Director in Canada for the Nature Conservancy, which is the world’s largest environmental conservation organization. And as a Climate Program Director, I work on the implementation of natural climate solutions, and no people is that a greater investment than with Indigenous governments, not only in Canada, but around the world, to partner on the implementation of natural climate solutions based on the values of these hereditary systems that everyone has, has denied and discounted. 

What if all of the major corporations around the world and crown governments or other governments said to themselves, right? Let’s take care of our people, and let’s, let’s take care of our, our haḥuułii, our, our lands and waters so that our people can be healthy. Let’s ensure that there is vocation and sense of belonging and sense of place. 

Instead, we’ve got competitiveness. Instead, we’ve got exploitation. So the message is, never ever let go of that system because it tells you how to take care of your people and how to take care of your environment. And so we will never ever let go of that system.

Elena Jean: Okay, thank you.

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): 

Elena Jean: Okay.

What advice would you have for another group, organization, somewhere, some other community around the world, a tourist destination, let’s say that. Another tourist destination looking to set up something similar as you guys are looking to have. What, what would be your advice?

What’s been working that you would suggest? Here’s how we can improve tourism and the impact that tourism is having. Here’s how we can improve your community. Here’s how we can improve, for tourist destinations, tourist impact. 

?ikaatius (Tyson Atleo): I think communities have to stand up for their interests, and not be persuaded otherwise.

We know what is right, often. Indigenous and local communities, especially, know what is right for the territories that they belong to, but often get overwhelmed by either a kind of volume of interest or a financial incentive. But standing firm on what you believe in and living it. And living it. 

So standing firm is active. It’s active. Not just defense, but it’s direct engagement. It’s here’s the vision that we have for our home, and we expect you to respect it. And not backing down from the opportunity to continue to, raise their voice, share their story, and also to reach out to organizations like ours and, and build a community of practice, and of shared, shared practice and, and shared wellbeing.

To support one another, we need to do that over time. But one thing that we’re always told by our Elders is just to live it. You know, if you believe in it and go and stand for it and live it, and to do it in a way that isn’t, again, overly defensive, but that’s welcoming others into your vision.

 It’s hard work. You have to remain humble in that work to the best of your abilities. But that’s our way always, was welcoming people in. So that we can do business together, provided that you respect us and who we are. You’re welcome to come and have a conversation. Of course, unequivocally. And that’s our way as the Ahousaht, and I know it’s another, it’s a way that belongs to Indigenous peoples more broadly. 

But I think the summary is, stand up for what you believe in, be welcoming, stay true to your traditions, and um, something like that.

Hasheukumiss (Richard George): Yeah. And I think, not reinventing the wheel. I think far too long have everybody tried to do their own thing and tried to knock it out of the park. But to really search out, like I put my due diligence and um, reaching out to see what works for other Indigenous nations and what hasn’t prior to what we’re doing. So collaborating and working, and working amongst each other. 

So I think my biggest advice is, don’t think you’re doing this on your own. To reach out and see if there’s an olive branch that could be extended. Because it makes life a lot easier as, as who we represent and what we’ve done and how we do our business is, we’ll never ever look for financial gain out of something that we’ve achieved.

If we’ve knocked it out of the park and it’s successful, other Nations want to come knocking and, and see how we’ve attained it. Well, I’m not going to take a commission or a financial gain from it. I’m going to release that information to that Nation. And the only thing I ask that Nation to do is, when someone comes knocking on the door, to be reciprocal and hand that information over. 

This way, you also get to have a really good vision of what works and what doesn’t work and, and the roadblocks that they’ve come upon. And I think the biggest roadblock that could be taken down is communication, being very clear on the directives that one is implementing and doing.

I think if you have strong communication and a strong willingness to work with the partners that are on the other side of the table, like the best, best practices and outcomes can, can come of it. 

Elena Jean: Okay. Thank you so much. for your time. That was beautiful. 

This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. Today’s guests were Hasheukumiss, Richard George, and ?ikaatius, Tyson Atleo from Ahousaht First Nation. You also heard from Elena Jean. For more resources about this episode, visit the blog at 

This episode was produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. My co-host is Tyler Robinson, and our co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy.

Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and Katie Shriner provided production support. If you like what you hear, please take a moment to give us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It’s a big compliment, and it helps more people find our show. 

We would like to thank Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond, and we also want to thank the many local community members, including First Nations leaders, for entrusting us with their stories. 

 Next time, we turn to the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to hear all about the Tribal Parks Allies program and more stewardship actions going on there. See you then.


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