Frustrated by the amount of destruction and disrespect he’s seen in his First Nation’s territory this summer, Tla-o-qui-aht member Timmy Masso is planning to block tourists from accessing West Main Forest Service Road on Tuesday.
“I will be shutting off that road starting at 4 p.m. today,” Masso, 18, told the Westerly News. “You have to find a different spot to camp or you have to cut your vacation short.”
He said he will be putting a rope across the road and is inviting all West Coasters to join him at the blockade, adding that he has spoken to the Ucluelet RCMP who will be attending.
“I really hope to see people coming out and respecting each other. That’s the first step in making change, to respect each other and I hope we can go out there and do that today,” he said.
He added that he hopes the event will remain “strictly peaceful” and he will not be preventing any essential workers from getting through.
“I’m strictly trying to protect my land against squatters and tourists,” he said. “The starting point of it was seeing the amount of people that are taking the land that we have and quite frankly not caring about it and destroying it…For me, it’s so hard to see that so many of these spiritual places are getting taken over and they’re getting commercialized, something that you can just give away.”
He said he and his family used to visit the area often, but repeatedly had their hearts broken at what they’ve seen as they’ve had to extinguish abandoned fires and pick up garbage each time they’ve visited.
“In the past few months, there have been so many tourists coming to Tofino and Ucluelet and with that there has been a lack of vacancies at hotels and campsites and people are flocking to the backroads,” he said. “The amount of people driving their cars and camping on the riverbank is so hard to see because that is a salmon bearing river. To see the amount of people driving on the river and disturbing that ground, for me, it’s so dangerous with the salmon disappearing so fast right now we have to try to protect the areas where they will come back.”
He added he was driving past the area several days ago and was shocked by the amount of cars turning onto West Main.
“It was so shocking, but also made me quite angry to see as well because this territory that we live in is so beautiful, but the amount of people that are there is a recipe for a forest fire and it’s a recipe for more pollution on our lands and this is something that I could not just stand by and let happen,” he said.
“We have to try to stop this. We have to make a change, but we can’t do it alone, we have to do it together as all our communities. This influx of tourists is, from my point of view, a direct cause of Parks Canada and the tourism of Tofino and Ucluelet trying to invite more and more people to come, but we don’t have enough infrastructure to support it. In the past 10 years, we’ve been making Tofino and Ucluelet a place to be, we’ve been making it a destination and this is something we really should have been trying to plan out and we should have anticipated the amount of people that would be coming.”
Along with being hit hard by tourism, the backroads have also become a point of contention because the housing crisis in both Tofino and Ucluelet has forced seasonal workers to camp in the area while working in town.
“I personally have a lot of trouble with people squatting on the backlands. I do understand this really is a housing problem that we can’t just solve at the snap of our fingers. This is something that our local communities have to sit down and work together…We have to try to figure this out,” he said. “I find it so tough when people are squatting on Tla-o-qui-aht lands because these lands I hold so close to my heart….My goal is to shut that off until we can properly find a solution to the problem.”
He added his main focus on Tuesday will be to prevent tourists from accessing the area.
“I just want to try to stop that for now and then we can try to figure out the problem of those people that are living out there and we can hopefully find that solution,” he said. “We draw these lines between Ucluelet and Tofino and different residents, but this a problem that we’re all facing and we have to come up with that solution not as a Ucluelet resident or a Tofino resident or a Tla-o-qui-aht member, we have to do it together. We all live here on the West Coast.”