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June 21, 2021

Rough seas calming: Tin Wis, past, present, and future

In the Tla-o-qui-aht Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation language, there is no translation for the concept of “wilderness”, the closest translation is “wałyuu“, meaning “home“.

Indigenous-owned Tin Wis, who champions the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies program in the accommodation sector, is also encouraging a shift and decolonization of the tourism narrative to help visitors understand that they are entering the ancestral home of the Tla-o-qui-aht people.

As Gisele Martin has said, “Načiks, (aka Tofino), is hosted entirely within the territory of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation which is the Ḥaaḥuułi of the ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ Ḥawiiḥ, and its Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks.

“We have been here for many generations. This land is made of the dust of our ancestors. Our language comes from this place, from the sounds of biodiversity and elements of this beautiful place. Many Nuu-chah-nulth Nations can identify which mountains their canoes were anchored to during the time of the big flood that covered the entire world, which is probably around the time of the end of the last Ice Age.

“When visitors come here, whether they’re flying, boating, kayaking, sailing, or driving, they are coming into unceded Tla-o-qui-aht territory. Tla-o-qui-aht has had international trade for thousands of years with neighbouring Nations on this continent. There have always been protocols on how to arrive and be a respectful guest in our home.

“The word ƛayaaḥuʔał in Tla-o-qui-aht language means ‘welcome’ and that welcome comes with an understanding that guests will be respectful of our laws and the biodiversity of this place when they are in our home, the Tla-o-qui-aht Ḥaaḥuułi.”

Načiks (aka the district of Tofino), and much of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve are within Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Ḥaaḥuułi. This is a place where the Tla-o-qui-aht Nations’s biocultural capital remains vibrant and visible in the water, on spectacular beaches, intertidal zones, and in the rainforest. “Natural beauty” as seen and misinterpreted as “wilderness” by newcomers and recent international visitors, is not “wilderness”, but the ancestral gardens of Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. They are the result of longterm intergenerational dedication, discipline, adherence to Indigenous law, and work. Tla-o-qui-aht ancestral laws protect and cultivate biodiversity, and express a commitment and connection to place over a continuousness of time that can be challenging for many who have been educated by colonialism to imagine.

Tin Wis is within Tla-o-qui-aht Ḥaaḥuułi and the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, and like the ancestral village site that existed here for tens of thousands of years, the 85-room beachfront hotel stands facing one of the oldest highways on earth – the ocean. Connected to this deeply storied place, Tin Wis Best Western Resort’s own evolution relies upon the resilience of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, ancestral land and identity, and the perseverance of Cultural Lifeways as well as the Indigenous laws which protect biological diversity.

Tinuwis means calm beach, and, like much of the Tla-o-qui-aht language the name is more verb than noun, expressing how the waves calm as they enter this protected cove which continues to be a haven for birds, paddlers, guests and the local community.

With the addition of the new Tsawaak RV Resort and Campground, which will feature Tla-o-qui-aht artists and Nuu-chah-nulth language, it is a growing hub whose economic development and capacity building is intended to sustain the Nation far into the future.

Tsawaak means one. His-shuk-nish-tsa-waak. Everything is one. Everything is interconnected.

When you approach Tin Wis Resort from the beach, the čiinuł (totem pole) named Tiičswina is visible. This čiinuł, Tiičswina, meaning We Survived! was raised for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission commemoration celebration on March 29, 2013. It was raised to honour the survivors and the children who did not survive in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, which were run from 1971-1981.

Totem Pole on the Tin Wis Resort

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation

Truth & Reconciliation Commission Commemoration

March 29, 2013

In honour of Ahousaht, Christie, Kamloops, Mission & Port Alberni Indian Residential School Students & Their Families

Government Indian Agents, RCMP, Social Workers, Religious Orders forcibly
removed children as young as 2 from their mothers and fathers and placed them in
Indian Residential Schools for up to 15 years. While in the confines of the schools children suffered horrendous atrocities.
Many were innocent victims of sexual, psychological,
mental, spiritual and physical abuse.
Most, if not all, faced child labor, loss of culture,
loss of language, loss of identity & lack of education.
Many children’s lives were lost due to suicide, murder & neglect while in those schools.
Today we welcome all these children home. We are grateful to you that under great threat
and intimidation, you carried as much language and culture as you did from the
past to today.

Joe Martin, Joe David, Mark Mickey and his son, Marcus Mickey, as well as many other community members worked on carving this pole, including Nora Martin who helped organise its creation.

Totem poles, čiinuł, can represent Indigenous constitution, Natural Law, the rights and responsibilities which Tla-o-qui-aht families have to lands, waters, the spirit of place, and future generations. Tla-o-qui-aht intergenerational protection is additionally continued today in the form of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks declaration.

The sun represents one of the most important laws. “ʔiisaak,” Martin explains, ʔiisaak is often translated as meaning “respect” but it’s also a verb: to be observant, to appreciate, AND to act accordingly.”

Central on the Tiičswina pole is a child, who represents all the residential school survivors, and those who passed away. Many, many never came home after being exposed to horrendous trauma, abuse, and starvation experiments in Canada’s infamous Indian Residential Schools.

“This child forcibly had their hair cut by the Indian residential schools. The eyes of the child on the pole are wide open representing awareness. Continuing to practice awareness despite the oppression of the Indian Act, of the Indian Residential Schools, and the banning of potlatch ceremonies and gatherings by the Canadian government for decades. Our ancestors continued practicing awareness and upholding our traditions. The cedar headband the child wears shows our connection to ceremony and our connection to the forest and to all life. His-shuk-nish-tsa-waak. Everything is one. Everything is interconnected.”

For 1971-1981, Tinwis was the site of an Indian Residential School (IRS). Identified as Christie Residential School (Tofino) in the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report, the school was relocated here after Kakawis on Meares Island closed down. It would be the last IRS to close in BC, though not the last in Canada (Saskatchewan, 1996).

The process of reclaiming this ancestral site would begin in 1981 with a hostel and campground operated by Tla-o-qui-aht.

Maria Clark, a Tla-o-qui-aht citizen who has worked for Tin Wis over a decade, remembers visiting it as a young child where dances with traditional drumming and singing were held.

In 1993, the Tla-o-qui-aht were granted the resort’s property and in 2008, were successful in negotiating with the provincial and federal governments for the adjacent 12.1-hectare property.

This property includes Tla-o-qui-aht’s administrative office, a small Tla-o-qui-aht built container home community and Tsawaak’s 4-hectare recreational area which will connect to the beach via Tin Wis.

In 1993, the 56-room Tin Wis, designed by the Campbell Moore Group Architects Ltd. opened, then was expanded in two phases to 85 rooms in 1996: every one with an ocean view. At the same time, both the lobby and the restaurant were enlarged. A $7-million-dollar renovation in early 2020 demonstrates the nation’s commitment to reinvestment and to providing a great working environment and an unforgettable experience for guests.

Only two original school buildings remain – the maintenance shed and the dramatically renovated conference centre which has since supported community and culture – from the 35th anniversary celebration of the declaration of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks in 2019 as well as the creation of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies program, during the 2018 western regional gathering of the Indigenous Protected and Conserve Area (IPCA) movement led by Tla-o-qui-aht Eli Enns.

Tla-o-qui-aht-owned Tin Wis has also built capacity as part of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s economic development strategy which includes providing employment for citizens, as well as Nuu-chah-nulth workers from surrounding territories.

Film photos of the Tin Wis Resort in 1993

“I see a hundred-year economy, I see a thousand-year economy,” Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht’s Natural Resources director has said. “I want to support sustainable [jobs]. I want fish in our rivers and tourism, campgrounds, trails, and a value-added forestry with a low footprint – and everyone working together to achieve that.”

Tsawaak is continuing that commitment to capacity. New Tla-o-qui-aht owned Hithuiis Spirit Construction Ltd. (HSC) is building the campground.

As HSC develops, Alex Masso, business and project manager explains, “The goal for HSC is to build capacity within Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. By working with the nation and other organizations we are filling positions from the office to boots on the ground with First Nations employees. HSC is working with our subcontractors to employ members within their organizations to obtain training and transfer knowledge back to the company.

“The primary language on the signage at Tsawaak will be Nuu-chah-nulth first and English second. HSC will be working with the Tla-o-qui-aht Language Society to obtain words and phrases that can be used on signage.”

Before designing Tsawaak, Nick Balaban, project manager and coordinator for Barkley Project Group (BPG), did his due diligence, walking the property with biologist, Adam Compton, Environmental Dynamics Inc., and with cultural leaders looking for anything culturally significant, including culturally modified trees (CMTs), to be preserved.

BPG, has been working with Tla-o-qui-aht for many years and previously managed the construction of three Tla-o-qui-aht run-of-the-river hydropower projects.

“We were asked to design the RV park and work together with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to develop a construction management company, using the construction of the RV park as a kick-off to establish the company,” says Balaban.

Connection with surrounding rainforest will be fostered by floor-to-ceiling glass walls in the visitor centre, designed by award-winning architect, James W. Tuer, and by thoughtful repurposing of felled trees into longhouses for glamping, a welcome sign designed by Tla-o-qui-aht artist Hjalmer Wenstob, boardwalks and more.

With a mix of camping options from easy pull-through sites for extra-large RVs, to the longhouses and tent sites, Tsawaak will make it easy to park and head straight to the beach.

Hjalmer Wenstob, who also sits on the Tla-o-qui-aht Economic Development Corporation Board, proposed that Tsawaak could build miniature longhouses or big houses on their glamping sites: a pitch quickly accepted by HSC. “Then at a future date, we could really put forward the opportunity for artists throughout Tla-o-qui-aht or maybe Nuu-chah-nulth artists to be partaking in a competition to design the fronts of these houses going forward over the next number of years. It could be a legacy piece that the campground puts forward and works with artists about.

“It’s pretty neat to see our own ability to highlight our own culture and our own people and I think it’s really the goal of the Economic Development Corporation, at least my role, is to find ways to highlight and showcase Tla-o-qui-aht first and foremost.

“Tin-u-wis is such an important part of our culture and our heritage, especially with the whaling history that happened there. How do we really showcase that history properly? How do we really highlight that?“

“We look Indigenous tourism in BC, and even in Canada, and so many people want to learn more but there just really isn’t a lot of space to do that learning yet. I think it’s our responsibility to showcase our culture. Of course, we have some things that we keep behind closed doors: a lot of things that are just kept in our own potlatches, in our own ceremonies, in our own communities. But we do want to showcase and share our artists and our history and really educate with that as well.”

Tsawaak’s visitor centre will create opportunities for future interpretive programs, storytelling, and a planned interactive kiosk which can be uploaded with Tla-o-qui-aht knowledge, language, and history.

“Ecotourism has been around for quite a while now but really Indigenizing tourism is something that we’re just starting to see now come to the forefront,” says Wenstob, “and I think it’s something that so many people want. As Tla-o-qui-aht members, we really want it to be known that we are here and that our history is so deep in this place, and it’s such a beautiful history as well. We do want to share part of our history, and we just haven’t had a lot of opportunity to yet.

“Our hope is that this campground goes ahead to really start that work in really highlighting our own people, especially as such an important place at Tin Wis.”

“Our dream and our aspiration is that people who come here learn that this isn’t a wilderness, it’s a cared for place,” says Julian Hockin-Grant, Allied Certifications, “and that the reason Tin Wis is at the heart of the largest intact tractable old-growth rainforest left on Vancouver Island, it’s not because nobody came along and cut it down yet. It’s because a community has devoted everything to keeping it standing.

“We hope that people will come here and learn about these interconnected cultural and ecological relationships and realize that the land needs people, and people need the land, and that there’s a dialectic going on.

“Nuu-chah-nulth people are a keystone species here, and I hope that tourists come and have their eyes opened by that. And go home, and perhaps devote some attention and time towards cultivating the right kinds of relationships in the places that they have come to call home, which are probably somebody else’s homelands.”

Hockin-Grant asks that visitors recognize that their presence has an influence on the culture and ecology here, and they have the agency to decide what kind of influence they have.

Here, in this protected cove at Tinuwis in Tla-o-qui-aht Ḥaaḥuułi, practice ʔiisaak (Respect/ Observe, Appreciate AND Act Accordingly). Keep dogs on leash and give space to the community of migrating shorebirds passing through as well as the local seagulls, be gentle with marine life you encounter while peeking into tidal pools, while hiking, SUPing or surfing, and practice respect while observing Nuu-chah-nulth dugout canoes which may be along the Tinuwis shore as they always were before.

As the sun burns off the early morning mist, its singed-cedar silhouette gliding through calm waters a reminder that the Tla-o-qui-aht have been here since time immemorial.

Thank you for your guidance Gisele Maria Martin, Maria Clark, Saya Masso, Alex Masso, Hjalmer Wenstob, Nick Balaban, Julian Hockin-Grant, Adrienne Mason, Jared Beaton, and Rachel Nickerson.


  1. Tla-o-qui-aht traditional territory:
  2. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve:
  3. The Indian Act was first instituted in 1876:
  4. Christie Residential School, Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre:
  5. Potlatch ceremonies were banned from 1880-1951. Potlatch is a Chinook word from the language used for international trade.
  6. Summary of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report:
  7. Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History, Horsfield, M. and Kennedy, I., p. 591.
  8. Tla-o-qui-aht Economic Development:
  9. Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History, Horsfield, M. and Kennedy, I., p. 560.
  10. Tsawaak RV Resort & Campground: Tsawaak RV Resort – The Great Outdoors, All Yours.