If you’re not afraid, you can learn anything. This is part of the teachings about our roles and responsibilities in the community to each other and other living beings. For all of us are the upholders of the Natural Law, accountable to future ancestors.Joe Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Master Canoe Carver
Like other Indigenous communities throughout Canada, the Tla-o-qui-aht people are survivors. Over a century of genocide, Christianization, forced assimilation, land alienation and re-settlement reduced their populations tenfold and pushed them to the brink of extinction. But despite environmental, social and cultural upheavals, the Tla-o-qui-aht are finding creative holistic solutions and restoring their traditional stewardship over the Ha-huulthii, their traditional territory, also known as Clayoquot Sound. Guided by their traditional teachings of “Hishuk Ish Tsa’walk”— everything is one, everything is connected—Tla-o-qui-aht people are developing ways to meet their ancestral obligation of looking after their traditional territory as climate changes. They are working on restoring logged watersheds after decades of clear-cutting; reviving traditional salmon runs after decades of logging and overfishing; healing their communities devastated by the decades of government assimilation and pressure; and developing a local economy that does not undermine, but supports, local ecological and cultural systems.They do so as their communities continue to slowly recover from decades of genocide and abuse at the hands of the provincial and federal governments, while developing ways to adapt to climate change.
Tla-o-qui-aht Climate Change Adaptation Response
Tla-o-qui-aht’s adaptation to climate change is centered around developing Conservation economy rooted in their Traditional governance—two potent ingredients of a holistic approach to climate change adaptation.
A Conservation Economy, unlike the industrial forestry and fishery practices, does not undermine, but supports the local environment and livelihoods, enhancing resilience of local communities and ecosystems in the face of change. The Tla-o-qui-aht people are working hard to support those aspects of their traditional subsistence-based conservation economy that are still viable, like salmon fishing. They also try to replace those elements that are no longer feasible, like whaling, with newer elements, like generating and selling renewable energy, using local forest products to build houses based on traditional designs in their communities, and developing facilities to ensure a long-term supply of clean drinking water for their communities.
Traditional governance—stewarding their ancestral territory based on traditional teachings that acknowledge the interdependence of people and nature enables the Tla-o-qui-aht people to maintain the integrity of their territory, while developing culturally appropriate and locally meaningful responses to climate change. For instance, exercising the constitutionally recognized Aboriginal right to self-govern their ancestral domain, the Tla-o-qui-aht people established Tribal Parks to look after their traditional territory as a way to protect it from destructive practices such as industrial forestry, overfishing and mining that the government has imposed on the land, unilaterally, for decades. Saving the old-growth coastal rainforest in the Park protects it from being clear-cut, safeguards the carbon stored in the trees, supports the subsistence-based way of life of the First Nations, and creates ecotourism opportunities that diversify the local economy.
We want to be really respectful, we just sit and wait and be patient, and listen to what [nature] has to say.Eli Enns, Co-Director, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks