Indigenous Ecotourism: T’ashii Paddle School

Case Study prepared by Rachel Sharp, Carleton University, December 5, 2017

Keywords: Indigenous Heritage, Ecotourism, Paddle School, Canoe Tours, Tofino or Park reserve, etc.


The purpose of this case study was to analyse a site in relation to its engagement with heritage conservation and sustainability practices. All specific knowledge about the T’ashii Paddle School was obtained through their public website. This information is used strictly for educational purposes, to foster a practical learning engagement between theoretical lessons taught in class and how they apply to real life scenarios.

This case study examines a Paddle school tourist attraction located in Tofino, British Columbia. The attraction was created by members of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations together with non-Indigenous individuals to provide a site for indigenous tourism while modeling sustainable conservation of natural/cultural heritage. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous of Indigenous Peoples (2006) underpin issues discussed, including, the numerous articles advocating Indigenous rights to lands, territories and natural or cultural resources, and those which advocate for cultural heritage traditions and revitalization. Indigenous Ecotourism is a way for Indigenous peoples to reconnect with their culture, while providing an income. This site is also analysed with reference to the National Guidelines for Indigenous Cultural Experiences. When looking at the T’ashii Paddle School, it grades very well against the market ready and export ready categories, as it meets many requirements regarding advertisement and booking strategies. However,  an increased effort of employment for Indigenous people who live in the area, will increase the authenticity of the site. There is a necessary balance between these categories which must be exemplified though all components of the school, whether they be Indigenous or non-indigenous related. This school has a connection to the land and how land can be protected in many ways. Numerous challenges and issues facing Indigenous communities are equally important to non-Indigenous societies, especially those that host cultural and/or ethnic tourism experiences. There is much to be learned from this example, specifically pertaining to sustainable heritage conservation in Canada, where much of our heritage pertains to Indigenous culture and values.


This slideshow contains a presentation of case study, primarily focusing on how Indigenous tourism is practiced in British Columbia, Canada, with a larger focus on the cultural aspects of the site. Presented on November 28th 2017



The T’ashii Paddle School is a Tla-o-qui-aht and West coast enthusiast-run tourist attraction, located in Tofino, British Columbia (T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.). The Paddle School specializes in outdoor education, including:

  • First Nations cultural interpretation
  • Canoe paddle instruction
  • Tours that explore areas in Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks
  • Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and first aid certifications

From March to October, cultural canoe trips lead by local aboriginal guides in a traditional hand carved dugout canoe give tourists a unique view of indigenous culture, history, and knowledge. These tours may involve a walk through of the old growth rainforest showcasing 1000-year-old red cedar trees. Year round the T’ashii Paddle School offers daily stand up paddle board lessons, tours through the ocean inlets and open ocean tours. (T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.).

This site employs local aboriginal people, encouraging them to share and to learn about their culture through by interaction and guiding tours for non-indigenous people. The T’ashii Paddle School offers both employees and customers a unique opportunity to celebrate aboriginal customs, and teachings, while learning about aboriginal culture, in a positive and engaging manner. (T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.).


1700’s:          The Tla-o-qui-aht first made contact with European traders, fisherman and explorers (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1811:               The Tla-o-qui-aht attacked the Tonquin, a ship of the Pacific Fur Company, in an incident which effectively ended the maritime fur trade at Clayoquot Sound (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1900’s:           Increased presence of European settlers on Tla-o-qui-aht lands forced them onto government-created reserves. Assimilationist federal policies — including the Indian Act and residential schools — eroded Nuu-chah-nulth culture and traditional ways of life. (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1958:              The Nuu-chah-nulth people form an alliance known as the West Coast Allied Tribes to increase their political influence. This alliance provides various services to approximately 9,500 registered members, including child welfare, education, employment training and other socio-economic programs that support health and development. (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1973:               The alliance is incorporated as a non-profit society called the West Coast District Society of Indian Chiefs. (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1980’s:            The Tla-o-qui-aht and environmentalists actively participated in efforts to preserve old-growth forests (ancient woodland) in Clayoquot Sound (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

1984:                The Tla-o-qui-aht sought to protect Meares Island from forestry by declaring it a tribal park. (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

2006:               United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (United Nations, 2008)

2011:                The Maa-nulth Treaty for five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations came into effect on April 1, 2011. It is the first modern-day treaty to be concluded on Vancouver Island and the first multi-nation treaty in the province under the B.C. Treaty Process. . (Ha-Hoothle (Territory) ,2016)

2012:                T’ashii Paddle School Opens


Communities: The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations: Tla-o-qu-iaht, Yuʔluʔilʔath, Tseshaht, Hupacasath, Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations, Toquaht Nation and the Uchucklesaht Tribe. (Management Plan, 2010), West Coast District Society of Indian Chiefs, West Coast District Society of Indian Chiefs.

Organizations: Government of Canada, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Parks Canada, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada

Parks Canada is an agency of the Government of Canada run by a chief executive who answers to the Minister of the Environment. The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. National Park Reserves are defined as protected areas that have not yet been brought under federal jurisdiction due to outstanding matters (National Parks Act (Canada), 2017). The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada focuses on creating partnerships between associations, organizations, government departments and industry leaders from across Canada to support the growth of Indigenous tourism in Canada and address the demand for development and marketing of authentic Indigenous experiences. (Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, 2017)

Owners/users: Owners and employees of the T’ashii Paddle School, users of the paddle school, tourists, people who are interested in stand-up paddle boarding

The T’ashii Paddle school is a stake holder due to their employment aboriginal guides. They area a positive indigenous tourist attraction which promotes a constructive way to learn and interact with aboriginal culture. The guides are a mixture of First Nations and non-Indigenous Canadians. (T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.).

Tourists can be considered stake holders since they are the ones that visit the site. They have the most influence on the sites survival since without their interest and economic investment the school wouldn’t be a feasible and profitable business.

All organizations that are affiliated with indigenous tourism can also be stake holders since they analyze these different sites to ensure the attraction portrays itself in a respectful way, and is conscious of the culture they publicly represent.

Each of the stakeholders listed above has a responsibility to act in a sustainable and appropriate manner. They have a responsibility to preserve, protect and promote indigenous culture with a positive attitude and to consult aboriginal peoples to make sure that any messages sent to the public are deemed appropriate.

Tourists have a responsibility act in a respectful manner. They also have responsibility to be socially conscious and to try to seek out more meaningful experiences such as an indigenous canoe tour.


The heritage values associated with the T’ashii Paddle encompass a unification of cultural and natural heritage. When looking at an aboriginal site the relationship between natural and cultural heritage is very much intertwined, The school itself provides a unique perspective of aboriginal practices, and allows non-indigenous people to learn about their participative environmentalism perspective. This school, located in Tofino British Columbia provides customers an opportunity to interact with the natural landscape, while learning about Tla-o-qui-aht traditions. This includes tours within the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park. (T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.).

“T’ashii” is a Tla-o-qui-aht word that means “path on land or on water”. ((T’ashii Paddle School, n.d.). This connection to the water is exemplified through Tla-o-qui-aht ancestral hunting practices. Up till the 1900’s the Nuuchahnulth meaning “all along the mountains and sea”, are the people who have lived along the west coast of Vancouver Island for millennia. (Management Plan, 2010, 2010) The Nuuchahnulth Tla-o-qui-aht ancestors hunted whales from canoes. The whale hunt is one that was central to the Nuuchahnulth Tla-o-qui-aht culture. While touring the area, customers may learn that whale hunters went through rigorous training; such as going off into the wilderness and participating in a holistic preparation process, including cold water bathing and fasting, physical fitness routines, mental preparation, and spiritual preparation to tap into natural and supernatural powers. The wife of a whale hunters also performed rigorous ceremonial preparations. From the time the men left shore in their canoe, she was to be in a continued state of still meditation and prayer, a communion with the whale’s spirit. She was communicating, asking the whale to give up its’ life for her community, as the life of one whale can supported everyone in Tla-o-qui-aht and beyond. When a canoe arrived at the whaling grounds, the lead hunter and harpooner (also a chief), would know which whale he was meant to go after because of his spiritual preparation and communication with the whale. When returning to land, he people would sing songs to welcome the whale ashore when it was being brought in. Once the whale was on the village beach, its’ life was honoured by the people with eagle down blessings and the body was carved up into specific sections that were given to the families according to their role in the community. Everything they could think to use was used. The bones are good for tools and weapons, the blubber was a major resource that could be rendered into oil and was a major item of trade spreading out among other First Nations far and wide. (Tla-O-Qui-Aht Whale Hunt)

The collaborative lifestyle regarding nature and culture observed by indigenous groups has lead to the protection of the land they originally occupied pre -colonization of Western Canada. The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is a national park that encompasses the Paddle School. The Nuuchahnulth First Nation, who resides in the area have history and traditions such as their whaling practices explained above that are deeply interwoven with the natural elements viewed in the park. (Management Plan, 2010)

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a goal to build relationships or create cooperative management regimes with nine of the 16 Nuu-chah-nulth Nations to establish a partnership which will develop appreciation, and share First Nations’ culture and history, providing an enriched sense of place for visitors and local communities. (Management Plan, 2010)


Environmental sustainability: The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education” with the specification that education is to staff and guests. Ecotourism is about the unification of conservation within the community and sustainable travel from an outside source. Tofino British Columbia is an area in Canada that regards nature in a very engaging and respectful manner. The city itself boasts of many actives such as hiking, biking, canoeing, surfing, fishing and wildlife viewing. (TIES Announces Ecotourism Principles Revision)

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is an area extending 125 km along the west coast of Vancouver Island from Tofino in the north to Port Renfrew in the south. This park is a coastal marine park covering three non-contiguous units. The Management Plan, 2010 for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve assists Parks Canada in its protection and presentation of the park. Park Management Plan, 2010s establish a long-term vision and provide a strategic framework for ensuring the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, and for providing quality visitor opportunities. The Management Plan, 2010 also proposes means to address the significant number of species at risk that regularly occur in the park. (Management Plan, 2010)

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve works with First Nations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, coastal communities, organisations, and interested stakeholders on the issues related to marine management and conservation. (Management Plan, 2010)

While the T’ashii Paddle has not explicitly stated their involvement with the Pacific Rim National Park, they are an organization that must abide by the published Management Guidelines, thus incorporating values both defined by ecotourism and goals of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The school celebrates the area in which it is located. Being foremost a business, the school uses its scenic surrounds to encourage participants to ponder the beneficial wellbeing of interacting with the environment in a suitably sustainable way. They create a appreciative relationship between the natural environment, and those that use it.

Socioeconomic sustainability: Tourism is one of the main industries in Tofino, British Columbia. Having a unique attraction, such as this one brings tourists to the area who otherwise might not have come. The collaborative effort to bring an indigenous perspective to the site allows people who potentially have limited knowledge of Indigenous culture to learn educate themselves on a topic they might not have been aware of. This gained knowledge leads to an increase in exposure of indigenous practices and beliefs, thus helping to create an appreciation and recognition of their way of life. By hosting an attraction that brings in people year-round, a source of income is provided to employees, thus creating economic sustainability for those who benefit from the existence of the school. Being that this site is fairly new, not much can be said for the longevity of this site-specific type of sustainability. However, other sites, who provide similar attractions, continue to exist, thus proving there is a market for Indigenous ecotourism.

Cultural sustainability: In the early 1900s the Canadian industrial whale hunt was over-harvesting whales primarily for their blubber and caused whale populations to plunge, which was part of the reason the traditional whale hunt stopped happening. The other reason is that there were extensive forced assimilation programs and an attempt at genocide of native people at the hands of the Roman Catholic church and the Canadian government. This was happening over about 5 generations for about a 100-year time period in our homelands, and didn’t allow for traditional practices to continue due to the massive disruption to families and communities. This site creates a way for Indigenous groups to connect with their own history and traditional practices, while still making an income. The cultural tours, allow Indigenous people to learn about their traditional way of life, and lets them stay in touch with their own history. It is a way to revitalize a culture that was almost extinct. While many aspects of aboriginal culture were lost through assimilation, this school allows tour guides to seek out information they might not have otherwise, and dive deeper into their own history.


Following the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, The T’ashii Paddle school, and further Indigenous tourist attractions can be categorized through Articles 10, 25, 13, 18, 20, 21,11 and 31. This site primarily applies to Article 11.1, Article 18 and Article 21.1, and it an example of revitalizing and repurposing traditional practices, and shows community involvement baring decisions made regarding economic growth and prosperity. (United Nations, 2008)

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples How the project/policy/place does
(a) Article 11 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. The T’ashii Paddle School is an example of revitalization of traditional canoe trips practiced by the Nuuchahnulth Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations. These trips follow historical routes in their traditional lands, using traditional dugout canoes, etc.
(b) Article 31 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. Revitalization of cultural practices is exemplified through tours guided by local Tla-o-qui-aht people. There tours create a connection to traditional practices
(c) Article 18 Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision- making institutions. This Paddle school exemplifies this Article, is a partially indigenous run organisation – with Nuuchahnulth Tla-o-qui-aht owners and employees

The second type of measurement applicable to the T’ashii Paddle School comes from the Indigenous tourism association of Canada in their National Guidelines Indigenous Cultural Experiences. This guide is sectioned into three qualitative categories; Authenticity Best Practices, Market Ready and Export Ready.

National Guidelines Indigenous Cultural Experiences  How the project/policy/place does
Authenticity Best Practices: A list of recommended protocols a tourism experience can follow to be considered “Authentic” the ITAC supports the authority of each community to determine their own cultural protocols and boundaries and recognizes all of the diverse values and beliefs of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit members. The Authenticity category encompasses embodies categorical elements titled Best Practices, Community Support and Enhancement, and Program Delivery. The Indigenous community whose culture is shared benefit from the operations in a significant and meaningful way, the cultural messages are developed and delivered by the Indigenous people, the business ensures that appropriate measures are in place to protect the sacred sites and traditional activities of the community to protect them for future generations from any potential negative impacts of tourism, and tourism products engages visitors using a variety of senses and offers an opportunity for a real connection to the community, the land and the culture.
Market Ready: Refers to business or experiences that have all their licences, permits, and insurance in place in order to operate legally. The business or experience also meets or exceeds industry expectations for their sector, communicates with potential visitors year-round and it is ready to accept advances reservations. Have been in business for a minimum of two years, are accessible to clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by phone, fax or email, offer a quality tourism experience and product that can be assessed or qualified through industry awards and recognition or visitor, trade, media and tourism association feedback, have published rates, established at least 6 months in advance and are able to take advance reservations.
Export Ready: Indigenous cultural tourism experiences are in great demand. It can be tempting to export your tourism experience before you are prepared to meet the demand. If international visitors are a long term or current goal, you need to be aware of how the travel trade works when first creating and pricing your tourism product. Produce promotional materials that present the product, price, dates, key reasons to visit and published rates.

Based on the framework from the National Guidelines Indigenous Cultural Experiences, the T’ashii Paddle School performs strongly as a candidate, as it exemplifies many of the necessary qualifications. With further research about the specifics of the institution, it would qualify for more categories. This information was unable to be obtained since it was not made public on their website. The elements that appear to be present at the site based on the information available among each qualitatively analytical category are listed in the table above. The Site performs poorly on only some categories such as Export Ready, but its overall strong performance based on research able to be obtained from the T’ashii Paddle School website suggests it is a very good aboriginal tourism site.


Books/Book chapters/Journal articles

  • Beckford, C. L., et al, (2010).“Aboriginal Environmental Wisdom, Stewardship, and Sustainability: Lessons from the Walpole First Nations, Ontario, Canada,” The Journal of Environmental Education 41.4, 239-248
  • Burrows, D., Murray, G. (2017). Understanding Power in Indigenous Protected Areas: the Case of the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. Human Ecology, 45, 6, 763-772.

Policies and reports

  • Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (2017) National Guidelines Indigenous Cultural. Retrieved from
  • United Nations (2008) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Retrieved from
  • Management Plan, 2010 (2010) Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada. Retrieved from


  • Dewhirst, J. (2009, April 27). Tla-o-qui-aht. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
  • First Nations Canoe Tours (2014-2017). T’ashii Paddle School Retrieved from
  • Ha-Hoothle (Territory). (2016). Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nation. Retrieved from
  • Indigenous Tourisn Association of Canda (2017) National Guidelines Indigenous Culteral
  • Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (2017) Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada
  • National Parks Act (Canada) (2017) Wikipedia
  • T’ashii Paddle School. Meet our Guides, (2016). T’ashii Paddle School. Retrieved from
  • T’ashii Paddle School. The Nuuchahnulth Canoe, (2016). T’ashii Paddle School. Retrieved from
  • T’ashii Paddle School. (2016). Tla-O-Qui-Aht Whale Hunt, T’ashii Paddle School. Retrieved from
  • TIES Announces Ecotourims Princples Revision (2017) The International Ecotourism Society