COVID-19 cases are on the rise throughout B.C.
Tourists are continuing to pour into the Tofino area at a significantly higher clip than expected.
And the resident Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is concerned enough that it is ready to close access to the Tribal Parks program in its territory unless more West Coast businesses step up with the resources needed to manage the the threat those combined factors pose.
“If a sustainable solution cannot be achieved by engaging widespread participation in the Tribal Park Allies certification standard, then it will not be possible for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to continue welcoming guests into our Tribal Parks,” reads a statement released by the TFN, whose traditional territories include Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, and areas within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
“The safety of our community members cannot continue to be compromised by a tourism economy which does not contribute to crucial community services…Our Nation opened our Tribal Parks to support an economic recovery for our Tribal Parks Allies and for local residents dependent on the tourism economy,” the statement reads.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation ended a COVID-19-related territory in June while the neighbouring Ahousaht and Hesquiaht nations decided to remain closed. TFN Tribal Administrator Saya Masso told the VI Free Daily that the volume of tourists hammering the West Coast since has taken the region by surprise. Closing Tribal Parks has been discussed, but is not the desired outcome.
The Tribal Park Allies program asked for a voluntary one per cent ‘user fee’ that participating businesses ask from customers. The money goes towards mitigating the social and environmental impacts of tourism.
“We expect that tourists that are coming here to see a beautiful area would be willing to pay an extra penny on their dollar,” Masso said, reiterating that the money does not come from the business operator, but is a voluntary one percent ‘user fee’ paid for by customers.
“We’re not trying to hurt the bottom line of businesses…We’re trying to collaborate with the tourists that value coming to a clean and well-serviced area.”
The program is currently helping to fund patrols by Tribal Park Guardians as well as checkpoints set up to prevent COVID-19 from spreading into vulnerable First Nation communities.
Masso said stronger participation in the program could lead to additional funding for resources like sewage treatment and healthcare services.
So far, roughly 37 businesses have signed up for the program, but a call out by the Nation in July did not yield the buy-in that was hoped for.
“We know it’s busy, but there is a disappointment…It does beg the question, would more businesses have signed on if we had remained closed?” Masso said.
“All the leaders regionally talk about building back better and talk about building back to overcome crises such as these and having a more resilient health care system et cetera and this should have been part of reopening…It shouldn’t have just been words, it should have been action. We’d been closed for four months when we should have been eyes open to how to build back better and we see this tool as one of the tools needed to build back better.”
Masso added that the disrespect being shown by some visitors to the region is “saddening and disappointing” and he noted the impacts of those irresponsible behaviours underline the need for more robust stewardship and guardianship.
“It just highlights that we’re under-resourced…We need a regular presence for education and outreach in our backroads and on our beaches,” he said. “As Canadians, you would hope that if you found a quiet place in the forest, you would leave it as you found it and that’s not the case. We’re finding propane tanks and tarps and abandoned lawn chairs and tents that are broken after a weekend and left amongst all the litter and cans and bottles and garbage, it’s just a tremendous amount of refuse.”
Masso said participants in the program would help contribute to a “healthy and beautiful Clayoquot Sound,” by empowering Tribal Park Guardians with more resources.
“We open our homeland to the millions of tourists a year and to do that we need these tools to be able to continue to be open safely,” he said. “We think that businesses would understand that and that we’re symbiotically linked.”
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