District of Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne and Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie, surrounded by their fellow council members and MP Gord Johns, sign a protocol agreement for the two communities’ elected councils at Tofino’s First Street dock on Monday. (Eric Plummer photo)
Despite the 20 kilometres of water that separate them, Tofino and Ahousaht are inherently linked, as evidenced by the dozen or so boat trips between the communities each day. On Monday, July 9, the First Nation and West Coast resort town formalized their working relationship with the signing of a protocol agreement, clarifying that their respective elected councils will meet at least twice a year to discuss issues and shared initiatives.
“It is recognized that additional meetings may be required in instances of immediacy and mutual concern,” reads the protocol agreement.
The document stresses that the respective councils “declare their intension to pursue a lasting relationship based upon mutual respect, honour and in the spirit of cooperation.”
At the protocol signing Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie said that the councils have already been meeting every six or seven months over the last few years, alternating locations between Ahousaht and Tofino.
“We share ideas about how we can work together,” he said. “Today is about Ahousaht and Tofino coming together and acknowledging each other for the work, the togetherness that we’ve been doing over the last four or five years.”
The signing took place on the deck of Tofino’s dock at the bottom of First Street, a site which serves as the primary landing and departure point for many Ahousaht residents who regularly come to Tofino for groceries, hospital visits or employment at the town’s local businesses. The condition of the busy dock has itself become a topic of discussion between the elected councils, said District of Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.
“The dock itself needs a lot of improvements,” she said, citing the lack of shelter on the structure.
Osborne noted that over the last generation Tofino, which has approximately 2,000 permanent residents, has shifted from a resource-based economy to a tourism hub. The town’s reputation helped to lure an estimated 1.2 million visitors to Vancouver Island‘s west coast last year, which also includes the destinations of Long Beach and Ucluelet. But as tourism intensifies each summer, parking spaces for Ahousaht members’ vehicles has become scarce.
Louie said this issue has been discussed between the two councils.
“It’s always on our agenda,” he said. “We don’t have any designated spots, but we do have permits.”
Another topic being discussed is the Tofino hospital’s capacity to serve its surrounding region.
“There is a small group of people that has begun to meet and discuss the fact that we need a new hospital in Tofino,” said Osborne. “We’re very aware that this is a regional hospital that serves all the way up to Hot Springs [Cove], down to Ucluelet and to Macoah. Almost half of the region’s residents are Nuu-chah-nulth and one of the problems with the hospital - not with the staff - but with the hospital structure itself is that it’s not really culturally appropriate.”
Being more accommodating to visiting families, with more privacy for patients, would allow the hospital to better serve its nearby communties, added Osborne.
“Having hundreds of people who live out in the sound means that Tofino needs to be prepared and accommodating and welcome,” she said.
Member of Parliament Gord Johns recalls being part of Tofino’s first council-to-council to meeting with Ahousaht in decades when was an elected official for the municipality back in 2009. He’s seen improvements in how the two communities relate to one another since he first moved to Tofino in 1994.
“I think there was a lot of distrust, there wasn’t a lot of mindfulness when it comes to decision making,” said Johns. “This is a real reflection of a shift in how to do business.”
“The relationship has grown,” added Louie. “There was racism and unsettlement between non-natives and the locals.”
While in Clayoquot Sound, Johns was scheduled to discuss the First Street dock with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the afternoon of July 9, followed by a meeting with Ahousaht’s newly elected council on Wednesday, July 11.