Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (formerly referred to as the Clayoquot), are a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation (band government) in Canada. They live on ten reserves along the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The band is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. There were 618 people living in the Tla-o-qui-aht reserves in 1995. Their primary economic activities are fishing and tourism.
Tla-o-qui-aht, whose Ancestral border is determined by the 'height of land, the direction of the rivers flow and as far as the eye can see on the ocean, is a confederacy of aboriginal groups who historically were independent from one another. Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations is the ‘Indian Band’ mandated under the Federal Indian Act to deliver civil and human services to Tla-o-qui-aht. The hereditary governance systems and structures of Tla-o-qui-aht that exist today, and that have existed since time immemorial have a dynamic relationship with the Indian Band administration and with the general population of Tla-o-qui-aht. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation resides on two separate reserves, one on Meares Island (Opitsaht) and the other at Esowista, surrounded by Pacific Rim National Park. A reserve expansion is planned for the Esowista site. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) has been very active in economic development. The keystone to understanding Tla-o-qui-aht history is understanding what the term Tla-o-qui-aht means. The following translation/interpretation was developed based on conversations with various Tla-o-qui-aht elders (including Mary Hayes and Dixon Sam Mitt, among others), fluent speakers, master craftsmen, seasoned politicians and those who participated in the exhaustive community consultation that was implemented by Tla-o-qui-aht during the Meares Island court case.
Tla-o-qui-aht is the confederation of historic native groups that once lived all around the lake system called Ha-ooke-min. Tla-o-qui-aht has been translated to mean “different people.” However, it means much more than that. To begin with, aht means 'from or of', and tla-o-qui is a place in Clayoquot Sound presently known as Clayoqua. In this way Tla-o-qui-aht can be understood to mean the “people from Clayoqua.”
This understanding of Tla-o-qui-aht speaks of the history of our people dating back to the early to mid-17th century. As mentioned, in former times, our ancestors were in fact not one tribe, but many small tribes and family groups who lived all around Ha-ooke-min, which is now known as Kennedy Lake and which is where Tla-o-qui is located.
The defining event that changed the face of Tla-o-qui-aht forever is eternalized in the name of the Esowista Peninsula. The war of Esowista was a Great War that Tla-o-qui-aht engaged in as a single force. The people who once lived on the peninsula from Long Beach to Tofino and further north had kept tight control of ocean resources and had made it a common practice to raid the sleepy fishing villages of Ha-ooke-min to take slaves and other commodities. In our language Esowista means “clubbed to death.”
Tla-o-qui-aht maintained their presence in this part of the Sound through to first contact with Europeans in the late 18th century. In summary, Tla-o-qui-aht, different people, are the people from Tla-o-qui; they are a confederation of many different smaller groups who once lived a very different lifestyle at Ha-ooke-min.
The following overview of the Tla-o-qui-aht hereditary system is not designed to be an official statement on our future self-government structure. I will provide a summary of the main features of the historical socio-political system of Tla-o-qui-aht; a summary of changes in that system since contact with Europeans and; a statement of current developments under way with a focus on current sensitivities that the outside participant should be mindful of when approaching Tla-o-qui-aht in relationship building.
The main features of the Tla-o-qui-aht historical socio-political system include:The ‘fish and fuse’ annual cycle, and Hereditary structure and social mobility.The fish-and-fuse annual cycle characterizes the historical Tla-o-qui-aht hereditary socio-political system as akin to a watershed management system. Generally, in the spring, summer and fall months the community would be spread, like fish, throughout the territory to gather stores of resources and to prepare clothing and other wares. During the winter the fusion would happen with wedding ceremonies, coming of age ceremonies and other significant social-political events that would reshape the political landscape for the following gathering seasons. Sometimes these shifts would result in the reallocation of watershed management rites.
The socio-political structures that continued on down through the generations were both fixed and fluid. The main feature of these structures is what is called ‘houses’. Houses are social sub-groups based on familial ties. The hereditary structures evolved and devolved through the annual fish-and-fuse cycles and through larger epochs marked by the cycles of the passing on of chieftainships from elder generations to successors. The evolutions and devolutions were also driven by depopulations and increases in population through annexation of other local groups. Throughout these cycles of change, it was possible for limited social mobility and for individuals to increase or decrease in rank based on resourcefulness, marriages, wars etc.
The Tla-o-qui-aht hereditary system was a complex form of self-government that integrated a distinct worldview characterized by a deep understanding of ancestry and manifest evolution. A combination of massive depopulation and the institutionalization of Tla-o-qui-aht children in residential schools had a significant impact on Tla-o-qui-aht hereditary system. During the depopulation, many of the house structures of Tla-o-qui-aht’s hereditary system became obsolete and therefore the number of houses also became less numerous. Residential schools systematically removed the language and deconstructed Tla-o-qui-aht families which were the basic building blocks of Tla-o-qui-aht society. Today Tla-o-qui-aht is in the process of rebuilding through a combination of restoring functions and adapting to the modern political landscape in British Columbia. The Hereditary Chiefs who are leading Tla-o-qui-aht through this process are:
- Howard Tom
- Alex Frank (Siayasim) – speaker, Reg David.
- Robert Martin
- Bruce Frank
- Ray Seitcher and George Frank (who share the Tyeeh seat)
There is currently a standing agreement that decisions regarding resource use are done through consensus of the six Hereditary Chiefs.
Families and the hereditary system
The following list of Tla-o-qui-aht family names is not an exclusive nor exhaustive list. It includes the root family names that most, if not all, current names can be linked to:
In our elected system of governance there is to be one member of Chief and Council for every one hundred members. There are currently eight Council members and one Chief Councilor. Council elections are currently held every two years. A dialogue is underway for the nation to change to a four-year election cycle.
Tla-o-qui-aht maintains two administration offices, one at Opitsaht and the other on the property of Tin Wis Resort in Tofino. They are currently making plans for a new administration and cultural center for the Nation.
Appointments to other boards
Currently, regionally focused appointments are made by the Hereditary Chiefs. Internal appointments to band committees etc. are made by Chief to the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust Board of Directors, the Clayoquot Sound Technical Planning Committee, the Central Region Management Board and the Central Region Board.
Business and economic development
The Tla-o-qui-aht (TFN) has been very active in economic development. They own and operate TinWis Resort, and have launched a tourism-booking center owned by their Economic Development Corporation. The Nation boasts several successful tourism, artist/carver and small business entrepreneurs. They are actively involved in expanding their community housing with a significant reserve expansion situated adjacent to Pacific Rim Provincial Park and they are working towards the establishment of a tribal park in the Kennedy Lake watershed that will "marry" economic development and environmental protection in this part of their territory. In 2008 the Nation also signed a protocol with the District of Tofino to work collaboratively towards planned development on the north end of the peninsula where several large parcels of crown land are under discussion. Like several other Nations, some TFN members (six to eight) are still involved in the fishing industry including spawn-on-kelp, and commercial salmon and halibut fishing.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is currently working on a number of projects to strengthen the community. In terms of the larger ones, we currently are undergoing a broad land-use planning exercise on our traditional territories, expanding the Esowista community, investing in ecotourism, and micro-hydro, collaborating on the development of a recreational multiplex, and supporting many other sustainable community development initiatives. We welcome partnerships in any of these areas, and are always open to new ideas.
- Ecotrust Canada. Eli Enns, "The Tla-o-qui-ahth First Nations," in Daniel Arbour, Brenda Kuecks & Danielle Edwards (editors). Nuu-chah-nulth Central Region First Nations Governance Structures 2007/2008, Vancouver, September 2008.