Our Tofino Neighbours: Martin Family & Clayoquot Wild
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More than an assembly of words, language is a bridge. “It’s a bridge into an ocean that holds a unique view with surprising encounters and key core values and teachings about how to live sustainably and in harmony with each other and the natural world around us. It had to be that poetry for people to know and teach waves of generations how to thrive in this unique ecosystem,” says Carla Moss. This is why revitalizing the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations dialect in Clayoquot Sound is so important for the team at Clayoquot Wild. It means “we can understand our homelands the way our ancestors did and visitors can share in the magical connection that language creates.” A local, family-owned, First Nations adventure tour company, Clayoquot Wild offers wildlife tours on this incredible coast with First Nations historical interpretation.
Started and owned by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations Elder Moses Martin, the entire Clayoquot Wild team live in the Tla-o-qui-aht communities of Esowista (Long Beach) and Opitsaht (Meares Island), and there are so many things, Moses says, they love about working on the ocean. “When people see a whale for the first time their excitement is wonderfully infectious” and there is immense gratitude for being able to operate in such beautiful territory. Connecting people with Tla-o-qui-aht ecological knowledge and their history is particularly “very moving.”
Indeed, while living in tandem with the daily activities of the wildlife (and, very importantly, knowing the weather and tides!) relationship-building is at the centre of what Clayoquot Wild is out to achieve, and language work is at the heart of that. “We are most proud to support our elders in knowledge keeping and teaching of our endangered Tla-o-qui-aht dialect. Language contains knowledge of ways of being that has sustained the land and people, and language work means keeping our children connected to our roles and values as humans and as caretakers of Clayoquot Sound,” said Clayoquot Wild’s Ivy Martin.
Wildlife tours leave from Ucluelet and Tofino daily, but custom experiences are also available with Clayoquot Wild. Carla, Moses’ wife, highlights a cultural exchange with a class from Cowichan Secondary School which included “a feast of traditional Tla-o-qui-aht foods and conversations rich in Cowichan and Tla-o-qui-aht cultural history. This custom cultural experience was tailored to their academic studies and allowed us to demonstrate the importance of good stewardship of both the land and our traditional knowledge.”
Carla acknowledges the ever-evolving business environment is a challenge to “staying true to our family and traditional values of the land in sharing knowledge and in all aspects of our lives,” but there is also a lot of gratitude at being able to operate in such beautiful territory.
During this time surrounding COVID-19 and in recognition that small communities have limited medical resources, the company is fully respecting the right of Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations to close their communities to visitors to protect the health of their members. But journeys and tours are still operating: “Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations has said that guests are welcome in the Tla-o-qui-aht hahoulthlee (loosely translates as “territory”) excluding the residential communities. We are happy to be able to share whale and wildlife adventures, bear watching, fishing and Journeys into History with a Big Tree Trail option.”
As community members, we are grateful to continue to learn from Clayoquot Wild about the land and life here, and to share in the appreciation of it. Together we are always gaining more wisdom here, such as: “Bears like to be sung Traditional Tla-o-qui-aht songs!” Carla said she learned recently. We recommend reaching out to Clayoquot Wild if you’re planning a trip to the coast, and if you’re unable to travel this year, Carla said to stay tuned to the company’s Facebook page where learning goes online and great reads such as "Why Scientists are Starting to Care About Cultures that Talk to Whales” are shared.