Clayoquot Sound has been the home and traditional fishing grounds of Nuu-chah-nulth People for tens of thousands of years: Tla-o-qui-at, Hesquiaht and Ahousaht First Nations, which includes the Kelsemaht people. An archaeological dig in the 1960s in Hesquiaht, near Hot Springs Cove, showed evidence of occupation onsite for at least 6,500 years.
For the Nuu-chah-nulth, Pacific Salmon are synonymous with the people and their way of life. In a landmark case won in the Supreme Court, Indigenous fishing rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, including Ahousaht FN, were recognized.
Indigenous peoples are important stewards of this region and leaders in sustainable eco-tourism. Each nation has a traditional territory or Ha-houlth-ee. Clayoquot is an Anglicization of the word, Tla-o-qui-aht. The people have
occupied Opisaht for at least 10,000 years, and the area of Meares Island, Tofino, Long Beach and beyond as far as Sutton Pass (Hwy 4) much longer.
Much of the region is protected within Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, first declared at Hilth-hoo-is (Meares Island) in 1984 and now encompassing a large part of their Ha-houlth-ee. During the Clayoquot Blockades, the Nuu-chah-nulth worked together with activists to block logging and protect the Sound and its temperate rainforests. More recently, they blocked new developments in commercial aquaculture to protect Pacific Salmon.
Indigenous stewardship ensures the preservation of the land, waterways and of traditional cultural values first impacted by European explorers and later, settlers. The principle of His-shuk-nish-tsa-waak (we are all one) governs their efforts to “provide enhanced services to improve the quality of life for all.”
The Nuu-chah-nulth are working to revive language, traditional dancing, drumming and singing, and artwork once prohibited by Canadian Law – with the Potlatch Ban prohibiting gathering for 66 years (1885-1951). Traditional culture was also erased by residential schools, operating in this region with devastating effect.
Today, traditional carving of dugout canoes is also being revived. You may see the Quuʔas people coming together on the ocean during their tribal canoe journeys, sometimes traveling as far down the coast as Washington to be hosted by other Pacific Northwest Peoples.