Lee’s Stories

Lee’s Stories

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posted on July 16, 2010 | Creativity, Science and Nature
Creative natives in Clayoquot Sound

Gisele Martin, owner
of Tla-ook Cultural Adventures
in Tofino,
leading a nature walk at
Tofino Botanical Gardens.

Photo by Lee Gass.


is an individual thing,
and it also runs in families and it
can run in communities and cultures.
During a 2-day meeting in Tofino last fall
I learned about several creative initiatives
that relate to that, and I want to tell you
about one of
them here.  The meeting
itself was a gathering of
three groups.

The Resilience Alliance is
an international research consortium
of biologists, social scientists, anthropologists,
economists and others who study how complex
systems of all kinds survive shocks and persist despite
buffeting.  The
resilience of lakes, forests, swamps, oceans
and other natural systems, sectors of economies, educational
systems, political systems, communities, and whole cultures.
The range is enormous.  For the Alliance, the Tofino
meeting was an opportunity to learn about something
several had been studying around the world, the
resilience of aboriginal communities
in the
face of  development  and resource use,
had read about their communities
and wanted to experience
some thing about them
for themselves.

I was a guest of the Resilience Alliance.

Ecotrust Canada
a nonprofit company, promotes
and finances conservation-based economic
development along this coast, the so-called
and supports community-based and private
enterprise-based initiatives, including many in the Tofino
Native-owned forestry and fishery companies, the
Nu-chah-nulth Central Regional First Nations in Clayoquot
Sound, a local airline.
Representing Ecotrust at the meeting
were its President and several principals from head
office in Vancouver and
the entire Tofino office.

Several representatives of
Nu-chah-nulth First Nation were
the third group. 
Elder Levi Martin welcomed
us into Tla-o-qui-aht traditional territory, offered
prayers for each session, and told interesting, highly
relevant stories about Nu-chah-nulth history and ecology.
A day-long workshop featured Eli Enns and the management
team of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks initiative,
which links
federal Pacific Rim National Park land, provincial
crown land beyond Park, Tla-o-qui-aht land,
and land owned and managed by private
forest companies into one large
most of the Kennedy
Lake watershed, which
is enormous.

Joe Martin
talked about running a whale
watching business, carving canoes, and
serving as ambassador for his people in France,
England, Germany, and other countries, and
a sumptuous traditional lunch on the second day
with fresh salmon, we went on a nature walk
Tofino Botanical Gardens, a top class
garden, guided by Gisele Martin.
The story I want to tell you
here is about Gisele.


In the
summer of her 13

year, Gisele Martin’s father
Joe meeting with us then, took her
in a boat to a small islet in the Sound.
stayed overnight together then Joe left, promising to
return the next day and a
fter surviving her first night
alone in nature, Gisele decided to stay another
night, and another, and another, and before
it was over she had spent the entire
summer there,
alone except for
frequent visits from
her father. 

For her,
it was an incredible,
life-changing, life-determining
experience and
when Gisele and Joe
told separate versions of the story, it was
one of  the  most wonderful things I had ever
heard, and 
remembered my own early experi-
ences in nature, later studying nature, taking
brief, 3-hour solitary retreats with students
in the forest. C
hildhood experiences of
nature and solitude were absolutely
pivotal in my life, and I got the
sense that something similar
is true for Gisele as well.
on the nature walk.

few people in our society
have spent as much as 3 hours alone
in nature, let alone entire summers. 
Nor do
we know much about nature, about living in nature,
or about people in Clayoquot Sound before Europeans
first visited this coast. 
There are many reasons to think that
as individuals, families, and societies, we need this contact with
the ecosystems that support us. 
We all need it, whether we
admit it or not, live in small towns, the big city or the bush,
young, old,
few of us really ‘get’ what we lose when
communities, ecosystems, and species, disappear
around us, cities sink, fisheries vanish,
forests burn, partly because we
don’t experience ourselves
as part of it. 

Gisele Martin’s
ecotourism company Tlaook
Cultural Adventures
can do a lot to
connect or reconnect you to nature, and

spending a day with Gisele will certainly
connect you to the Tla-o-qui-aht, to Gisele’s
elders and ancestors and to traditions
that kept them strong and healthy
there in Clayoquot Sound.

As educator and
biologist, I was impressed
by the quality of the tour Gisele led,
especially given the depth and breadth
of questioning by our group.
She stayed right
there with us, in the moment, responded eagerly
and well to barrages of questions about all kinds of
and her prepared remarks wove rich, accurate
threads of information into tapestries of engaging
stories about where she lives. 
She knows the
natural history of the area, and as much
about traditional land use as anyone
I’ve known.
Her personal style
is engaging and I highly
recommend her.

At Tla-ook
Cultural Adventures,
parties in dugout canoes carved
by Joe Martin and his brothers, parties
paddle Clayoquot Sound from Tofino, stopping to
investigate intertidal areas, inlets, islands, rainforests,
rivers, and culturally important sites and
lunching on traditional food. 
along the way, Gisele provides
the sound track. I think
the sound track
is superb.

Here is a video of Gisele conducting a tour.
– I can no longer find Tla-ook on the web –

First published in the Vancouver Observer.

Edited January 2019.

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