Tribal Park Allies: A blueprint for ethical travel everywhere

Annika Rautiola

26 March 2024

“What is unique is that you have the ability to come to Tofino and ethically travel. I think that’s something that the world can learn about and learn from. Everybody that comes here and goes to a Tribal Park Ally hotel or business, a portion of that is going to be left behind for a legacy.” – Saya Masso



In 1984, a pivotal moment in history occurred near Tofino, British Columbia. A logging blockade sparked the creation of the area’s first Tribal Park, marking the beginning of a journey towards environmental stewardship led by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. Now, four decades later, the Tribal Park Allies program stands as a testament to the enduring commitment of Indigenous communities to protect their lands and waters. It’s also a model that other travel destinations and First Nations can follow.

At the heart of this initiative is the vision of coalition building — a powerful force for change. Tribal Park Allies seeks to unite the local tourism industry in support of Indigenous-led sustainable projects and cultural revitalization efforts. Spearheaded by Saya Masso, Lands and Resource Director at Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, this program embodies a spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility for our planet.

In this episode of Travel Beyond, Saya sheds light on the profound impact of the Tribal Park Allies program. With a blend of historical context and forward-thinking strategies, Saya shares insights into why this initiative is a blueprint for how travel can make a better world through stewardship, cultural respect, and positive local impact.

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

  • How a landmark court decision led to the creation of Tribal Parks in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
  • Why coalition building is such a powerful lever for change that other places can adopt.
  • Why the Tribal Park Allies program is vital to the continued stewardship of the environment surrounding Tofino, British Columbia.
  • How Tribal Park Allies is changing the norms for both businesses and visitors in Tofino by encouraging ethical travel. 
  • About the positive impacts that reliable funding is having on restoration and First Nations culture. 



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

Tribal Park Allies – A certification program collecting a stewardship fee.

Tourism Tofino – Tofino’s Destination Management Association.


Episode transcript

Saya Masso: Everybody that, that comes here and goes to a Tribal Park Ally hotel or business, a portion of that is going to be left behind for a legacy, the grandchildren. Your stay will have meant something to stewardship, to recovering rivers, to lunch programs in the school. And Tofino has that opportunity. And at the moment, the 125 businesses have the ability to say that to their clients. 

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, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from Daajing Giids, 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 Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, 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 changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through actions 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, so please do reach out if you have a story for us. You can reach me at or give us a comment on social media.

Tyler Robinson: Last episode, we learned about some of the actions that the Ahousaht First Nation, near Tofino, is taking to gain more control over its economic destiny. And we looked at the Ahousaht Stewardship Fee as one example.

David Archer: And today we have a story from the neighbouring Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, on whose land Tofino is located, and, like the Ahousaht First Nation, the Tla-o-qui-aht are seeking and finding sustainable funding to power its sustainable actions, and they’re also building a coalition of allies among local businesses and their visitors.

Saya Masso is the Lands and Resource Director at Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and he’s going to tell us about the Tribal Parks Allies program. 

Tyler Robinson: And the Tribal Parks Allies Program has some momentous history behind it. The first tribal park was established in 1984 after a landmark court victory that prevented old-growth logging on Meares Island, near Tofino, which is today a popular site to visit. And also vital to the local drinking water supply.

 Since then, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has expanded the park system, and has begun organizing a coalition of support around it, from local businesses. Businesses that are certified Tribal Parks Allies agree to acknowledge that they are on unceded land, agree to be good stewards using the best environmental practices, keep watch and report behaviour that might damage the environment, and they give 1 percent as an ecosystem service fee to the nation for Tribal Park Regional Services. That include guardians programs, stewardship, restoration of rivers, language programs, et cetera.

David Archer: And those funds are providing much-needed support for some actions to preserve and restore the environment that everyone depends on, including the travel industry, of course. 

Tyler, coalition building is a theme that keeps coming up on Travel Beyond and in our work. Why do you think that is, and what can you tell us about coalitions for sustainability, based on your observations?

Tyler Robinson: Coalition building is so, so important. It’s a unique circumstance with places because places aren’t owned by any one person. So we really need to find ways to work together to steward a place effectively and respectfully, which requires clear communication, mutual respect, shared decision-making processes, among other things. In many ways, coalition building is messy and slow and usually not linear, but it’s really the only way to create change that is grounded in community values and needs, and to make sure a diversity of voices are represented.

So, as we think about travel leaders or destination managers or community leaders of many stripes, these folks are really in the business of change making, and coalition building is an essential tool for changemakers and a key lever for shaping a place in the image of its community.

David Archer: Yeah. Coalition building has long been an important tool for destination managers and marketers. And there’s another lever that we’ll talk about in today’s interview. Saya talks about how businesses who choose to become allies in the program can promote ethical travel to their consumers. So would you say that changing visitor behavior and norms is another lever of change to consider?

Tyler Robinson: I would say that at its roots, travel is all about sharing values and lessons through culture. It’s not about forcing visitors to change their behaviour, but inviting them to share in meaningful experiences that represent the values of the place. Touching people in this way is one of the most impactful things that I think travel can do.

 It’s very different than learning about something academically from a distance. You can actually experience a new way of living and live in the values of the community you’re immersed in. Humans are emotional and experiential beings, so I think that’s why learning in this way can be so impactful on lasting behavior change.

David Archer: Yeah, yeah, living a place from the inside out, so to speak. And as we talk, I’m also reminded that building allyship, isn’t just a theoretical business concept that can gather funding or might be an astute business decision. There are some real stakes involved that might sometimes be underappreciated in our day-to-day and I’m thinking about, having listened to this interview, it’s sometimes a question of survival for communities, for different cultures and ways of life, and for the environment. And I think all those things are in play, in this story. I really appreciate Saya Masso’s openness and vulnerability with how he feels about doing his ancestors proud, which you’ll hear, and how they worked hard to protect the lands leading up to this moment.

Tyler Robinson: I couldn’t agree more, David. I think it’s really important to emphasize the true nature of the stakes. And like you said, in many ways, it’s a community’s very survival and way of life that is at stake. So with that, let’s hear the conversation between Rodney Payne of Destination Think and Saya Masso of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Saya Masso: My name is Saya Masso, I’m a husband and a father. I live in Opitsaht on Meares Island and I work for our Nation, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. I’m the Lands and Resource Director for Tla-o-qui-aht. 

Rodney Payne: And where are we right now? 

Saya Masso: We’re on Tinwis Beach in Tofino. And Tinwis translates to mean calm waters and so you see behind me, there’s no real breaking waves, you don’t do surfing here, this is a really calm, flat beach to be at. 

Rodney Payne: Yeah. And what’s your connection to this area?

Saya Masso: Well, Tla-o-qui-aht ancestors, you know, I’m from the the Frank family, the Hereditary Chief [Tla-o-qui-aht name]. And Tla-o-qui-aht was a whaling society, and this beach was a nice, safe beach to land and bring inventory from whales that would be cut up on an island out there and then brought in ashore. So this is a really historic beach and we habitated here and would have had sacred areas all surrounding this landing area.

Rodney Payne: Do you have any hobbies that you want to tell us about? 

Saya Masso: Um, geez. Hobbies, I don’t know. I like chore Saturday. I like doing stuff that makes my life better. And, uh, work is a hobby, you know, the work I do is going to be felt by my grandchildren. I literally could work anywhere, but I choose to work here because the employment that is created out of this program is all going to exist for our grandchildren. 

Rodney Payne: What do you love most about this place?

Saya Masso: Wow. It’s beautiful. For me, it’s the connection to land, the connection to our people, the chance to make a difference and an impact is really important to me. The fresh drinking water, world class. The water from Tofino should be in a competition for the best-tasting drinking water. It’s filtered from an old growth forest on Meares Island and, uh, those are some of the things I love about here. 

Rodney Payne: Have you found anywhere else that you really enjoyed visiting? 

Saya Masso: My father was in the Air Force, so I lived in Germany and saw a lot of Europe, because every country is just 15 minutes away from each other, almost, and I like Switzerland, but I think I’m due to get to somewhere like New Zealand and connect to maybe a little more Indigenous travel. Never had that opportunity yet. 

Rodney Payne: Are you worried about climate change and what we’re doing to our biosphere?

Saya Masso: Definitely am. Part of why we’ve had a big push to protect our old growth trees is knowing how much carbon is sequestered by these hundred-metre-tall trees. And we see climate change. In the 20 years I’ve been home, I’ve seen the fast pace of change. But what used to be the winter times would be two weeks of mist and rain and mist kind of blowing everywhere that you can’t get away from. And then a little bit of sunshine. 

And here we are, day after day of sunshine. That’s not normal for here. This is a rainforest. We just went through a summer of drought where you could count the number of rainy days since February. It was just like three, four, like… we had a forest fire in our homeland last summer, just recently.

So, that’s just abnormal. And it’s happened faster than we thought. You know, climate change was talked about when I moved home 20 years ago. And it talked about 2050 and such. But no, I never thought that I would see the pace accelerate so quickly.

To see the impacts on our shorelines. We’re still learning about what’s happening to the salmon and the migrations and what can even have a bigger impact from climate change.

Rodney Payne: Is your role as Natural Resource Director, is that unique? Do other Nations have similar roles? 

Saya Masso: Yeah, I would think that every First Nation has a Lands and Resource Department responsible for responding to what’s called referrals. Often, the government has the legal requirement to consult with First Nations about tenures or licenses in their territory and where they’re suitable and how they can be accommodated of their rights. And so that usually necessitates the Lands and Resource Manager that’s responding and coordinating all that, coordinating the consultation with the Elders and the community, and affirming what should the land be used for and what impacts are going to be born on the land and such. So, yeah I, I think there is a Lands and Resources Director at every First Nation in Canada. 

Rodney Payne: You’re obviously quite in tune with the natural environment around here through your work and culture. How do you see the ecosystem as all connected and our place in that? 

Saya Masso: Mm. The Nuu-chah-nulth expression, hishuk ish tsawalk, which is, “everything is one.” Hishuk means everything. Tsawalk is the number one. So everything is one. Everything is connected. And I remember an Elder telling me, like, you have to see more than your hand. Like, it’s almost like, our presence in the web of life, including the spiritual world that you can see, that’s not just a tree, that’s a spiritual creature, it has spiritual energy.

So, it’s more than just us fitting into the web of life, it’s even spiritual and energy, and it’s about mankind living in the web of life, not on top of it in a pyramid top-down. It’s so fundamental that we live in the environment with a relationship of reciprocity, that you’re thanking the environment for giving sustenance to you, that you treat it with respect, whether you’re returning salmon bones to the river after harvesting or managing salmon runs so that the strongest of the salmon get through, and that you harvest from the middle of the salmon run, and just different practices that show that you’re caring for the web of life.

Rodney Payne: How have you seen the local environment change over your lifetime?

Saya Masso: I touched on it earlier in you know, the, the consecutive years of drought that we have in the summer. We do see rising king tides in the winter, more shoreline erosion in our community of Opitsaht , our plan is to deal with our shoreline erosion and try and have some stability in our community. 

But I don’t think it can be understated the drought, the flashiness of rain in the winter, rain drops the size of dollar coins and hundreds and hundreds of millimeters over three days, and then sunshine in the winter. Like, it’s just, it’s obvious, the change. And the land can’t manage that much water.

Especially in the summer, these trees would hold the water, but if it just comes all at once, most of that water ran off, and it didn’t get a chance to hold and absorb into the forest floor, and into the leaves of the trees. So yeah, it’s a different, changing world.

Rodney Payne: Thinking about that change, how does it make you feel? Do you miss how it used to be?

Saya Masso: I do. When people in town are, ‘what a great sunny day’. I’m, it’s winter. It’s supposed to be raining. I like it when it’s raining in winter. I do. I do want that stability of what it used to be like.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell me a little bit about the Tribal Parks Allies program and what its mission is? 

Saya Masso: Ah, that’s, uh, can be a long story. Like our first Tribal Park was declared in 1984 from the Meares Island Aboriginal Title case, where Tla-o-qui-aht took Canada to court about the intended logging that was going to happen behind our village. And it wasn’t a question of how to log, where, and when to log. It was a question of who has the right to issue a tree farm permit? 

And it cost us a lot of money, like $13 million in today’s dollars, to explain our connection to land, place names, our regalia, our curtains of our chiefs, our continued use of the land.

And it came time for the province to show how they have jurisdiction to issue tree farm, and they couldn’t provide a stitch of evidence. 

So our Nation, our Elders, declared Meares Island Tribal Park as a means of describing Aboriginal Title. It was a means of saying, how do we envision sharing Aboriginal Title. The flora, the fauna, the medicinal plants, the sustenance from the hunting grounds and the mud flats in front of the island. And it even referenced drinking water Tofino, 20,000 cubic litres.

And so for the first time since 1850s, that’s when Canada stopped making treaties, and in 1984, they were required start making treaties again to deal with Tla-o-qui-aht Aboriginal Title land. And, ever since then, we started negotiating treaties with Canada and we voted two treaties down, and this is all about our unceded land that our nation has had a history of trade and commerce with British flags and Spanish and American schooners that come to our land, and different things that we’ve had to survive to end up in 2023 with no treaty, unceded land, an undefined relationship with Canada. And a fundamental part of having Aboriginal Title, or being a First Nation, is that you have the right to benefit from the use of your ancestral lands. 

Even in the Canadian court system, the Chilcotin court case in Supreme Court Canada declared that First Nations people, if they can demonstrate strong title, deserve a benefit from the use of that land. And it’s the hardest component of Aboriginal Title to implement, getting people to pay Indigenous people. 

So Tribal Park Allies was a way of articulating that. It certifies businesses that sign up, the business agrees to acknowledge our unceded land, which I can belabour and present 400 years of history and show all the different things from surviving the banning of potlatch, which was designed to dismantle our government, residential schools designed to break our connection to land. We survived all of these things. And we can demonstrate that title, and thus our right to benefit. 

And so the businesses acknowledge our unceded land, they agree to be good business stewards. If they’re breaking land, they use the best environmental practices, if they see an environmental issue in their area of operation, or the vessel or boat, and they see something, they report to Guardians. Hey, there’s a boat sinking, or there’s oil on the water, or if they’re sharing history on their website, they do so through a link to our website so we can control the narrative. 

And lastly, they agree to target one percent from their business operations that will be sent to Tla-o-qui-aht for Tribal Park Regional services. Which is our Guardians, our stewardship, restoration projects with our partners, rebuilding rivers. But so much more than stewardship, it’s language programs, our interest to have a long house, an athletic hall, other services… it’s like, the rising tide should float all boats.

And the economy of Tofino is rising and rising and rising, and these offshore nations are being left behind and that’s not right. When people come here, they have an opportunity to patronize businesses that are recognized as Tribal Park Allies, and they get to know that they’ve come here with ethical travel in mind.

That they’re leaving something behind for the grandchildren that are here. While they were here, they’ve contributed to stewardship or a longhouse. The drinking water that all these businesses benefit from was protected from our court case. It cost us $13 million. That is a longhouse. That is an athletic hall that we have foregone to create this economy. The right of Indigenous people to benefit from their homeland is literally a United Nations declared right. It’s a human right. And we have to go knock on doors to get our human right recognized.

That’s not right and it’s infuriating. You know, to get these rights implemented, you go to court. You protest, you blockade, and that’s just so deconstructive. The Tribal Park Allies Program is a win-win. Businesses come to us that want to be ethical businesses, and I don’t have to go marching in the street to do that.

It’s a win-win. They get to know that there’s something left behind. It’s not going to Ottawa, it’s not going to LNG gas programs. It’s not going anywhere. It’s going to stay here in hospitals and lunch programs and in stewardship. And I think businesses that have sat down to hear this want that. And they see it, and they want to sign up. 

I thought I would retire when our old-growth trees are protected and our salmon runs have recovered from the deforestation in the 50s, 60s, 70s. We haven’t eaten a salmon out of our own river in the whole time, 30 years. 

We go fishing offshore, and catch the Fraser River. So I figured like, and we’re getting close, I got some money for new hatcheries, salmon hatcheries. And old growth is getting close to protected. So I’m like, wow, that was almost my goal for a retirement. Now I’m like, okay. I want a long house and I want an athletic hall. Those are $10 million each, you know? So I’m on a couple of things half checkmarked off my bucket list. 

Rodney Payne: I get the sense that you might not retire.

 Do you know of any programs similar to yours around the world?

Saya Masso: I would hope there are some. I know we’re a leader in Canada, I think we’re the first in Canada to articulate First Nation right to benefit in this format. I think we’re the first in Canada. I just, I hope that there’s something out there, elsewhere doing this because it’s well past time that people leave something behind for the Indigenous people whose backyard they’re in.

 The people that come and build a business in our homeland. And they come from all over, and we saw an influx of people from Alberta that, they don’t know. They weren’t here in the 80s, the 90s where we fought about forestry and logging and the War in the Woods outside of Tofino here and they weren’t here for that. So they don’t know everything that our Nation did and those entrepreneurs that come here, when they open a business and if they don’t want to be here anymore and they move back to Toronto or wherever. While they were here, we hope that something was left behind for the grandchildren, the Indigenous people whose backyard that they were in and that’s really all that’s about. 

Rodney Payne: Do you also hope that with people coming here and experiencing what you’ve described around what’s going into enabling the beauty to still be here leaves an imprint on them?

Saya Masso: Um, It, it is. If they have the chance to learn the story, their jaws drop. I usually do, like a, can be up to an hour long history presentation of our greeting schooners and the fur trade and the banning of the potlatch and everything that we’ve had to overcome. Hiding the crests of our chiefs onto curtains so we could fold the, curtain up.

These crests were so important. You can’t hold a potlatch, a feast where our Chiefs benefit from our homeland all summer in the winter, we throw potlatches and singing and dancing, and we give out food to our people through the winter. 

And, to do that, you have to have the Chief’s crests up in the longhouse, and we put those onto curtains so that when the potlatching was made illegal in Canada, we would fold up the curtain if the RCMP were coming up the village path, or the Indian agent was coming, and we had to do all these different tactics to survive our culture.

And when people hear that we’ve done all these things, we’ve masked our potlatches around Christian holidays, like, oh, it was illegal to gather in sizable numbers. But if it was Easter or Christmas, you could gather, and we could do some drumming and singing in our kitchens to do some potlatching, and we survived our culture. When people learn what we’ve done and ended up in 2023 with still no treaty signed. Canada abandoned treaty making in 1850 and they said, forget it, no more treaty making. We don’t want to get certainty to land through treaty making. We’re just going to ban the potlatch and put their kids in residential school. 

All these things that we did to survive. We’re learning our language. They tried to take that from us in residential schools. We’re learning our language on Zoom lessons and we’re doing so much. And when people learn this, combined with our human right to benefit from our, our land and that it’s a human right, and I gotta knock on doors to get it done there. 

People in the audience are just like, I wanna, I wanna patronize businesses that are allies. And, uh, yeah, people learn a lot. A lot of history that hasn’t been taught. Our war with an American schooner when there was an American military base on Meares island. this is right around 1811, 1812, 1813, the War of Independence.

We were warring with an American schooner here. Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations sunk a schooner off the islands out here. This literally could have been american dollars being used here. If not for Tla-o-qui-aht history. 

And when we share all of that, and we have this great program called Tribal Park Allies. People just, they see it, it resonates. 

Rodney Payne: When people come to visit, are there opportunities for them to learn your language and this history?

Saya Masso: We’re trying to get that up and going. Last year we wrote some grants, landed some grants for [Tla-o-qui-aht word] sharing event. We shared some of our art culture and history, and shared a meal with, west coast cuisine. But that was our first time doing that, and our Tribal Park Guardians are more geared on restoring rivers and trail building and boardwalk trails. We don’t really have a interpretive guide aspect to it yet. 

 I’ve had to garner this hour long history presentation, because I have to educate business owners of why we’ve started this program. We want to cookie cutter that a bit and grow it and create these opportunities for sharing for people to learn this history. And I think we’re writing more grants to do another sharing event this spring.

Rodney Payne: You’ve been knocking on doors for a few years now. Are you seeing a lot of enthusiasm and support? 

Saya Masso: Well, we have 125 businesses. We had a pretty steep curve of people signing up at the start and in the middle, but it feels like it’s kind of slowed down a bit in the last year or so, so we’re really happy that some critical partners like Tourism Tofino signed on to help us make awareness.

 We’ve been really trying to break into some of the outlying hotels, they’re the major player and the and the major businesses in town and we really need all the hotels to sign on and I think we have four or five right now. 

Rodney Payne: What advice do you have for other places who might have an opportunity to replicate what you’ve done? What are the first steps you can take? 

Saya Masso: Great question. I love sharing that, and when other First Nations call us and they want to learn about Tribal Parks. And I’m more than happy to share, because it’s taken us a long time to get where we are today. 

And if, what we’ve done in 15 years, another nation can do in 5, I would love to share that. I think some of the things that have been critical for our path to success has been, our Tribal Park management units, our Tribal Park vision for our land. We did those through year-long open houses in Tofino. Open to everybody. Anyone in Tofino can come and, opinion about the vision for where, what these territories should do, what should be protected, what rivers should be restored. Everyone had input in it. So it wasn’t just us saying, this is where we want to go. We heard from everybody. And then we publicly post our land vision on our website. Publicly engage, getting grants to get our Guardians going. Uniform, presence, visibility. Our Tribal Park truck we had to write a grant and get that. A business loan for our vessel. But they’re painted in our Tribal Park colors. People can see where we are. That’s critical. Visibility, public input.

But I think what we’re learning about now is how to engage multimedia, social media. I think there’s something for me to learn from how to do that better. Or even resource it. And it’s tough to resource, to put salaries towards social media when I need to be working in rivers. So it’s a really tough path to follow, because some of these are so critical. Getting Guardians out in the land, and visibility, and uniforms, and training Guardians, that costs a lot. It’s not a, it’s not an easy path.

Every cohort of 12 people that want training or need training in wilderness first aid, or environmental monitoring, or stream keeping, chainsaw courses, all of them, there’s, you know, 15 grand a piece. Get a professor out for a week straight. And so if you can’t keep them employed in the winter, those trained individuals will go work elsewhere after being trained and certified and after a summer’s worth of work out in the rivers and trails.

So it’s a tough course, but if you can pull a few things together and create some partners, getting some sustainability, it can be done. And the federal government has some more grant opportunities from the environmental Ministry of Climate Change. They have some guardian support. That wasn’t there when we started.

We had to start by collecting fees on one trail, and we wouldn’t get enough money from the trail until July to hire a couple Guardians, when I needed them on the trail, upgrading the trail in February and getting ready for summer. So it was a really tough hill to climb, and if anyone can do it faster and better with the grants that are out there, hopefully it’s possible.

Rodney Payne: What happened here in the 80s and 90s was pretty powerful. And it obviously came from the values in this place and the people here. When you think about communities standing up for something based on their values, how do you think that leads to transformative change? 

Saya Masso: Yeah, the values, you know, because some of our people used to be in the logging industry. But when it was too much, and it was too much is too much. Our values percolated to action, creating the standoff and forestry and creating that change.

 I don’t know, that movement, it’s a grassroots movement, and they’re hard to stop once they get going, eh? Cause you get you get the grannies at the table and passioning their grandchildren and everybody’s mobilized. So, it’s really powerful when values come to the forefront. It’s principled. 

Rodney Payne: How do you work to revitalize and restore your language and culture? What are the things that are enabling that? 

Saya Masso: Yeah, that, that’s been tough too. Like, we’ve had three years of sustainable grant funding for a language program now. Since 2020, 2023. We needed that in the 90s when we had more elders, more fluent speakers alive. We have a handful now and we’re, like, we’re aggressively capturing, documenting. And technology is allowing us to use Zoom to host language meetings at night and language courses and just sharing. And people, our band members that are down in Victoria, anywhere, they can just sign into Zoom and have it on while they’re eating dinner or, it’s just a whole new way of trying to revitalize our language.

 It’s more open and welcomed in the school. We’re we’re actively trying to replace some of the place names, these anglicized place names, and reclaim, almost turning back time and putting the place names back to what the Earth wanted them to be.

Rodney Payne: What do you think some of the biggest lessons the world can learn from here and from your Nation?

Saya Masso: I think that Tofino is a world class destination. White sandy beaches and surfing and clean and beautiful mountains and environment. It is a world class destination. And the world, a lot of the world knows about Tofino. 

What is unique is that you have the ability to come to Tofino and ethically travel. I think that’s something that the world can learn about and learn from. Everybody that, that comes here and goes to a Tribal Park Ally hotel or business, a portion of that is going to be left behind for a legacy, the grandchildren. Your stay will have meant something to stewardship, to recovering rivers, to lunch programs in the school. 

Not every tourist industry, tourist town, or not every industry can say that, uh, that they’re an ethically grounded business or industry. And Tofino has that opportunity. And at the moment, the 125 businesses have the ability to say that to their clients. 

Rodney Payne: Do you think that’s a big opportunity? 

Saya Masso: I have to hope so. I’m an optimist, and I’m the glass half full, and it is a tremendous opportunity. And I just have to think that the groundswell is just going to keep going, and that businesses that are not an ally is going to be so weird. Like, it’s like seeing a plastic straw in your cup. What is this plastic straw? No, we don’t do that anymore. 

How are you not a Tribal Park Ally? You don’t support lunch programs and stewardship? And, I think it will get to that point where it’s weird to not be a Tribal Park Ally, and yeah, I’m optimistic about the growth power of it.

Rodney Payne: What’s the best piece of advice or learning you’ve gotten from the generation that came before you? 

Saya Masso: Wow, well, the monumental things that they overcame, just fearless. Yeah, our ancestors went through a lot to give us this, so we have to do the best with it. 

Rodney Payne: would you love visitors to know?

Saya Masso: A long time ago, at our band meetings, our band members would say a million people come here a year and they don’t know who we are. So we put a sign up.

When you enter our territory, Nuu-chah-nulth territories are often divided by the height of land and the flow of water. So as you pass up the mountain and the water starts to flow to the west coast, you’ve entered our homeland. And so that’s where we put a sign up in the mountains, Welcome to the haḥuułii of the Tla-o-qui-aht [unknown word]. 

 So, a roundabout way of saying it, we just want people to know who we are. 

Rodney Payne: What do you hope Tofino and your Nation will be like or look like in 10 years?

Saya Masso: Ten years? Gosh, I hope we have an athletic hall, sustained programming for our youth and our language programs. A potlatch, a feasting hall, a longhouse. A museum to repatriate some of our regalia that’s been taken away, and that’s a good place for sharing and informing tourists. 

But ten years, that’s almost feasible. Maybe, I’m focused on the longhouse and the athletic hall next, I think. And maybe some, someone else take on the museum aspect. And maybe we’ll see all three of those, and all the other things that go along with it. The vibrancy of our youth, our youth out on the land, our Guardian program is good at that. Getting people out on the land and creating partnerships that see Tla-o-qui-aht members restoring rivers as our ancestors would’ve. And so we’re getting a lot of the piece and the piece of the puzzles to, to meet that dream. 

Rodney Payne: What do you need to be able to have an even bigger impact?

Saya Masso: Yeah, that’s part of what the Allies program is, is sustained funding. Those first few years of unsustainable funding created a really stalled out period where we’re not able to grow, not able to train Guardians, not able to have visibility or presence, writing grants for $10,000 here and there. The ability to have access to six figures of grants or if you have 10 Guardians at a living wage, $40,000 a year, $400,000 just to get us to ground zero, and you still need assets and operating capital and so it’s expensive. So sustained funding is critical and that’s, that’s what the Allies program is about. 

Rodney Payne: program is about. 

Saya Masso: Probably our past. Yeah, the successes of our past and our ancestors and great, great shoulders to stand upon, you know. 

Rodney Payne: How do you feel about the current state of tourism in Tofino? Do you think we have the right number of people coming? Do you think they’re the right visitors?

Saya Masso: I think the people coming here are seeking environment and will probably easily seek out ethical travel. That’s become something that’s talked about. And I think even the generation that is coming up they do computer search and Google search and ethical travel, and I’ve heard clients go to businesses that aren’t allies and say hey, are you a Tribal Park Ally, and the business was like “oh I’m trying to survive COVID right now, and I don’t have the, I can’t have that impact” And he’s like ” I I’m aware that I pay, it’s not coming from you. I want to pay that allies fee. I’m here traveling and I want to pay. that”. And so you almost have a visitor that’s educating the business owner about, hey, this is what ethical travel looks like.

So we have the right mix of people that seek out Tofino. It’s about managing it to be, I don’t know if sustainable is the word, but yeah, triple bottom line. Social benefit, environmental benefit and all of that aspect to business growth in the tourist industry. But having enough sustainable drinking water, impact from sewage, sewage treatment plants and such, you know, those are some of the critical infrastructure that’s going to need to be addressed for Tofino to keep growing. Or even to stay on its current path. 

Rodney Payne: do you think it means to be a good ancestor?

Saya Masso: I think working for the future generations. I think if you could take that on, learning from our ancestors who were doing that, thinking of the unborn generations and the work that I’m doing won’t, it won’t, be benefiting me in an athletic hall or if we get a longhouse and culture and stuff, I’ll be too old to do any dancing in it. But that’s one thing to take from our ancestors is that forward looking effort and vision. 

Rodney Payne: There’s a giant spotlight on you right now. Is there anything else that you want to say while it’s, while you’ve got the platform?

Saya Masso: You know, you’ve asked so many of the great questions that I, uh, I normally would want to say, Hey, when you come to Tofino, look for ethical travel and look for businesses that are certified as Tribal Park Allies. But I’ve, I’ve really hit that up a lot in this conversation, so I don’t really have much more to say. 

Rodney Payne: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time and for sitting down to talk to us.

Saya Masso: Awesome. Thank you, you’ve Been a great host. 


Tyler Robinson: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. And that was Rodney Payne, speaking with Saya Masso, Lands and Resource Director at Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. For more resources about this episode, visit the blog at DestinationThink. com. I’m Tyler Robinson, and my co-host is David Archer, who composed the theme music and produced this episode.

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 rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It really helps people find our show. 

We would like to thank Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond. And we want to thank the many local community members, including First Nations leaders, for entrusting us with their stories. Next time, we’ve got more to share from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. See you then.


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