There are three Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations whose traditional territories encompass the area now called Clayoquot Sound: the Hesquiaht, Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations. These Nations have lived here since time immemorial—well over ten thousand years.
None of these Nations have given their lands away, lost them in battle, or signed treaties. For this reason the lands are called unceded, and the unresolved Land Question hangs over everyone who lives in the region. Each Nation has a Band Council as decreed by the Indian Act. However, the Act was intended to undermine Indigenous governance and economies. There is another level of government, the system of hereditary chieftainships. Canadian courts recognize the hereditary chiefs (ḥawiiḥ) as the title holders of their traditional territories (ḥaḥuułʔi).
Colonialism has been (and continues on a daily basis to be) brutal for Indigenous People living here as elsewhere in Turtle Island. But there is a powerful resurgence well underway—the Nuu-chah-nulth are known as leaders in healing from the pain and suffering of the Residential School system, which was meant to “take the Indian out of the child”.
As well there is a political resurgence underway, which some recognize as having begun with the battle for Meares Island. Back in the 1980s Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht united to stop the clearcutting of this large island near Tofino. Their court victory is what has kept the trees standing there for the past 35 years, and is a major precedent in Canadian Indigenous law. The island has been designated by Tla-o-qui-aht as Wanachis-Hilth-huu-is Tribal Park. The entire Tla-o-qui-aht territory has now been declared Tribal Parks.
In June 2020, Chantel Moore—a young Tla-o-qui-aht woman living in New Brunswick, was shot by police. It was a wake-up call for many Canadians who may never have heard before of a “wellness check”. This killing, which came during a period of heightened public awareness and racial tensions in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, shone a light on how deeply systemic racism runs in Canada’s political and policing systems.
A lot needs to change if there is to be justice, if we are to learn to live together peacefully in the lands we now share.
Clayoquot Action is committed to working with our Indigenous allies to see a new Canada emerge which is anti-racist and anti-colonial.