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I attended the inaugural naaʔuu indigenous tourism event in 2023, held at the First Nations-owned Tin Wis Resort in Tofino, a three-hour cultural experience designed to share deep history of the

Tla-o-qui-aht people through traditional food, art, song and dance.

A second series of events are planned this year in May and June at the resort — a feast where elders, artists and knowledge keepers will again share their wisdom and stories.

This is my report from the 2023 naaʔuu event, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and its Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks initiative.

A Tla-o-qui-aht feast of wild salmon, venison stew and bannock. Ben Giesbrecht photo



The crunchy white roe pops in my mouth, salty and tasting of the hemlock where the herring have laid their eggs during their spring spawn.

Herring roe — k’waqmis — is a seasonal treat for the Tla-o-qui-aht people and one Maria Clark is sharing with visitors tonight at naaʔuu, a new indigenous cultural experience in Tofino.

Maria Clark is sharing a seasonal treat — herring roe. Cinda Chavich photo

Clark is the assistant manager of the First Nation’s owned Tin Wis Resort where the inaugural naaʔuu events are being hosted, and she proffers a branch of roe-encrusted hemlock.

Crunchy herring roe - k’waqmis - is laid on hemlock boughs in the spawning season. Photo Cinda Chavich

The lightly cooked herring caviar a revelation to me. Herring roe may be an acquired taste, but it’s one that the indigenous people of Vancouver Island have been enjoying at this time of year for centuries, if not millennia.

When the shallow waters turn milky with milt, hemlock boughs are suspended in the sea to capture the masses of pale, translucent eggs.

It’s a sign of the changing seasons, part of the rhythm of living in symbiotic harmony with the coastal environment, which is just one of the Indigenous lessons the naaʔuu experience aims to illustrate with food, stories, music, art and dance.

Drummer and 2023 artistic director Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob with his brother, masked dancer Timothy Masso.        Photo, Ben Giesbrecht
Drummer and 2023 artistic director Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob with his brother, masked dancer Timothy Masso. Photo, Ben Giesbrecht

A replica longhouse has been constructed inside the Tin Wis resort’s conference centre for naaʔuu ("feast" in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation language), and we duck through the low doorway to enter, welcomed by a traditional paddle song. It’s dark and smells of freshly sawn cedar, with red flood lights and dry ice replicating the smoky fires of a potlach feast.

Hjalmer Wenstob Photo, Ben Giesbrecht

“What we want to do with this is to bring people together, to share a meal, and to learn and dialogue,” explains host Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob, as he shares the history and traditional origin story of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, one of three local Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations who have lived around Clayoquot Sound more than 10,000 years.

The traditional hahoulthlee (territory) of the Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht and Ahousaht stretches “all along the mountains”, from the summit at Sutton Pass and Kennedy Lake down to the Pacific Ocean, fertile lands of cedar and salmon, the natural gifts that have long sustained coastal Indigenous people.

Tonight’s early-spring menu features these wild seasonal foods, from the herring roe and dried kelp to wild Pacific salmon, clams, mussels, venison stew with root vegetables, and preserved berries. Like a traditional potlach, it’s a chance for the hosts to “flex” and show the abundance of nourishing riches from the land and sea.



The first naaʔuu dinners were held over several days in 2023 with Wenstob, a local carver, artist and gallery owner, acting as the co-producer and host of the first events.

Ben Giesbrecht photo

Wenstob spoke from the podium, while his younger brother Timothy Masso appeared on stage, whirling in the icy fog and seamlessly switching the cedar mask he’s wearing – a smooth face with a blank space where the mouth should be – for another with wide open lips.

It’s a new mask that Wenstob carved specifically for naaʔuu, symbolizing the fact that the Indigenous people here were once silenced but are now ready to tell their own story, in their own way.

“What we're doing is sharing a history that you may have not heard before,” Wenstob explains. “A lot of the time Indigenous histories and our own histories are told from a perspective other than our own, and they can get skewed.”

Hjalmer Wenstob narrates the naa?uu program. Cinda Chavich photo

As we dig into our salmon and shellfish feast, Wenstob narrates the program, explaining the Tla-o-qui-aht spiritual connection to salmon and cedar, relating millennia of pre-contact history and their creation story, punctuated by Masso’s masked dances, whether a salmon mask, a mischievous raven or a mask depicting the devastation of pandemics, from small pox to COVID.

Wenstob shares stories not often told about the challenges his people have faced since contact, starting with the American fur trader Capt. Robert Gray, who burned their village at Opitsaht to the ground in the late 18th century, taking with it 200 long houses and as many totem poles, and other colonial confrontations that killed many of their people. A population of 20,000 Tla-o-qui-aht people dwindled to less than 2,000.

He also describes how, two centuries later, Nuu-Chah-Nulth fought logging companies and governments to stop clear cutting in their traditional territory — leading the famous War in the Woods, a massive protest and act of Canadian civil disobedience, that eventually saved the towering old growth forests that now attract visitors from around the globe.

Without divulging any of the sacred songs or stories held by their Hereditary Chiefs and families, naaʔuu aims to educate non-indigenous people about the Tla-o-qui-aht connection to this place, seeing the popular tourist destination through an indigenous lens.


Another goal of naaʔuu is teaching visitors to respect the natural environment, especially the forest, the ancestral food garden of the Tla-o-qui-aht people.

Maria Clark Photo Cinda Chavich
Tribal Park guardian on Meares Island and a CMT tree

Hiking the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island with Maria Clark and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks lead Saya Masso, we are among some of the largest trees still standing in British Columbia. The trail follows along a boardwalk of rough cedar planks built by Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardians, here where a generation ago others stood to stop clear-cutting of the old-growth forests.

There are spirits here among the ancient trees, and food and medicine, says Clark, scanning the forest floor for young nettles and licorice fern, the root used to soothe a sore throat. It’s traditional knowledge passed through generations.

At the end of the trail, Masso runs his hand along the deep vertical scar of a “culturally modified tree” (CMT) dubbed The Standing Harvest Tree, describing how his people used these trees to survive while letting them survive, too.

For millennia, Tla-o-qui-aht used large trees to build long houses, canoes and totem poles, he explains, while carefully harvesting the supple inner bark from standing cedars to use for everything from clothing and hats to woven mats, baskets and rope.

It was the many CMTs standing on Meares Island which proved in Canadian courts that First Nations had been utilizing these forests for centuries, bearing physical witness to their land claims, and leading them to declare this island their first Tribal Park, a designation since extended to the entire Tla-o-qui-aht territory.

Today, Tribal Park Guardians are tasked with stewardship of the Tla-o-qui-aht homelands, their work including restoration, monitoring, education and enforcement, based on the Nuu-chah-nulth principle of hishukish ts’awalk:everything is interconnected, everything is one.

There are four declared Tribal Parks in Tla-o-qui-aht territory, where visitors are welcomed but expected to “behave with honour dignity, respect and humility.”



Nuu-Chah-Nulth traditional knowledge and teaching is the focus as we gather at their table, whether in the songs and stories about salmon and raven, or the wild mushrooms and berries in the feast.

"This isn’t a potlach, but in Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture, food is a big part of who we are,” says Wenstob, the buffet groaning with locally sourced and prepared dishes. From other local people at our table, we learn how the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people here are championing language education for their children, the very core of reconciliation and healing.

The buffet is groaning with locally sourced and prepared dishes. Ben Giesbrecht photo

Elder and former Chief Moses Martin is one of the community’s last fluent language speakers, and he describes growing up here in a time of change – from his experiences as a child, fishing with his father, being forced to attend residential school, and then working as a political leader for decades, leading his people in protests to end clear-cut logging and preserve old-growth forests.

Learning to use the proper words in the local Nuu-chah-nulth language, and leaving the anglicized words behind, is also important for visitors. It’s a sign of respect — iisaak — which Martin explains is the overarching Nuu-Chah-Nulth law.

“My late father, almost on a daily basis, was talking about the law of respect,” Martin recalls. “What he was saying was that respect is our very first law. If you always base your decisions on the law of respect, no matter what you do or for whatever resource that you’re harvesting, he said there isn’t much that you’re going to do wrong.”

“And my mother, on the other hand, talked about the human side of that law — what she was saying, again, is that respect is the very first law, but you cannot demand respect, you have to earn it.”



Even if you’re ignorant of another culture — and especially if you are — sitting down over a meal is a positive place to start.

We are literally breaking bread, the fluffy bannock recipe shared by an Tla-o-qui-aht elder, to mop up the rich gravy of wild venison stew, as we sip tea infused with the sweet, woody scent of cedar and soak up a new perspective.

Bannock and wild berries on the menu. Ben Giesbrecht photo

When June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly National Aboriginal Day) was declared 27 years ago, a Bannock Awareness recipe book was published, using bannock to represent a bridge between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures.

“In precontact times, bannock was made from natural substances gathered from the woods: flour from roots, natural leavening agents and a sweet syrup made from the sap of trees,” writes Michael Blackstock in the introduction.

“Unfortunately, most Canadians know little about the history of colonization and its subsequent affects on First Nation’s cultures. We can help build bridges and a brighter future by sharing our favourite recipes and by learning about our history.”

Clark’s gift of her k’waqmis (herring roe) — harvested by local fishermen, and traditionally shared with all community members — feels like a bridge between her culture and mine.

She has boiled the boughs to lightly cook the roe, then sprinkled it with sesame oil and smoky kelp seasoning from Naas

Foods, a new Indigenous-led producer of seaweed products in Tofino.

Clark offers me a k’waqmis covered branch and shows me how to strip away the clumps of tiny eggs and tender hemlock needles, a wild caviar starter that’s salty and aromatic, a taste of the forest and sea.

The herring spawn just once a year, the roe a seasonal gift of nature and one we’re lucky to have encountered, just as we’re privileged to experience the beauty and serenity of the wide beaches and tall, ancient trees here on the rugged west coast, and learn how the first people honor their role in it.


The traditional Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture is rooted in gratitude for everything nature provides, a humble understanding that all things are connected, and without the sacrifice of cedar, whale and salmon the people would never have survived.

As Wenstob reminds us in his traditional stories, the floral and fauna of the earth lived in harmony long before humans arrived and “just by being, we threw the balance off.” Newcomers, he says, brought trade, “but didn’t honour the world around them,” and “seemed to have a desire to consume, take until there’s nothing left.”

It’s brought the planet to a dangerous tipping point, he says.

“By following the laws of nature, we can help heal the Earth and return to a place of harmony and balance,” says Wenstob. “The more we can share our stories, the more connections we have to each other.”

Cinda Chavich photo


The initial naaʔuu dinners were held over several days in March 2023, and the events returns to the First Nations owned Tin Wis Resort for several dates in May and June 2024, with a new artistic director and team.

The dinner I attended featured a beautiful buffet of wild salmon, clams and mussels, salads and vegetables, prepared by the chefs at Heartwood Kitchen in Ucluelet, working with recipes provided by local elders.

Tables groaning with traditional Indigenous foods, from salmon to shellfish. Photo by Ben Giesbrecht

Here’s a taste of some of what was on the menu in 2023:



This refreshing beverage channels the forest flavours of wild berries and cedar. The recipe was created by Nicolas Meunier, Sous Chef at Heartwood Kitchen in Ucluelet.


8 cups of water

1 cup of sugar (adjust to taste)

3 black tea bags

1 cup of cranberries (frozen is fine)

1/4 cup of sugar

1 small cedar grilling plank (**use only food-grade cedar)


Cook cranberries on low to medium heat until they start to burst, add 1/4 cup of sugar, then continue to cook for 5 minutes

Bring 8 cups of water to a simmer, add tea bags and the cedar plank, then steep for 5-6 minutes or until the desired taste is achieved

Add cooked cranberries to tea mixture to infuse.

Cool, strain and serve.


IMPORTANT: Cedar in its natural form is toxic for humans, unless it’s boiled several times to remove the resin. Only use cedar that’s been treated for food service like cedar grilling planks which can be found in stores. Chef Meunier recommends the western red cedar for the best fragrance.



Chef Ian Riddick, Head Chef and owner of Heartwood Kitchen in Ucluelet worked with the Tla-o-qui-aht organizers of naaʔuu to create a menu based on traditional dishes. He shares this simple but delicious recipe for brined and roasted wild salmon, still an important staple food for coastal First Nations in British Columbia.

Wild salmon and bannock for the feast. Photo, Ben Giesbrecht

1 kg wild salmon fillet



2 cups water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup maple syrup



Combine brine ingredients in a nonreactive container, stirring to dissolve sugar.

To prepare salmon, remove skin and pin bones. Cut salmon into 8 portions, approximately 125 grams each.

Place the salmon in the brine and leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours

Remove the salmon from the brine, rinse with cold water and pat dry.

For best results prepare a charcoal grill or gas BBQ and heat the grill to high temperature, 400 F. Clean and prepare the grill for cooking.

Place salmon portions over direct heat on the grill and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Turn salmon over and immediately reduce heat to low and close the lid. Salmon will cook very quickly. Check in 2 minutes and remove when a 125 F internal temperature is reached.

If using a traditional oven, preheat to 375 F. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, lay out salmon and bake for 6-8 minutes, to an internal temperature of 125 F.

Serves 8.



This recipe was provided by Grace George, a mother living in Tofino, B.C. This simple baked bannock recipe was shared with her by an elder of the Nuu-chah-nulth community, and makes one large loaf or smaller buns.



6 cups of flour

6 tbsp of baking powder

3 1/2 cups of warm milk

1/4 cup of vegetable oil



Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C)

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, milk and oil. Stir until the dough comes together in a ball; do not overmix (dough will be sticky).

Shape into a rough oval or round loaf, and place on a baking sheet or oven-safe casserole dish. Line the baking sheet with parchment, if desired.

Bake in 400°F (200°C) oven “until a beautiful golden brown,” for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested.

The dough can also be formed into individual buns, to be baked or cooked on a hot pan.

Serve warm or cooled — goes excellent with B.C. blackberry jam or wild cranberry preserves.



The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in Tofino presented its first naaʔuu event in 2023 with a program designed by carver and gallery owner Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob. 

This year the event returns with a new artistic director, Ivy Cargill-Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht multidisciplinary artist, who will add to the experience, bringing Tla-o-qui-aht stories to life through her own art and personal way of story telling. Indigenous chef and caterer Roberta Tom will provide the food at this year's feast.

Naaʔuu events at the Tin Wis Resort run Friday and Saturday evenings, May 24 and 25, and June 7, 8, 14, 15 and 22. Tickets for the three-hour immersive experience ($199-$229 pp) are available through Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Tribal Parks.

The view from the Tin Wis resort in Tofino. Cinda Chavich photo


Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort is owned and operated by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, located on Mackenzie Beach, just four km from downtown Tofino. The hotel is offering a naaʔuu packaged stay, with discounts on event tickets with a hotel booking. To book, go to the Best Western Tin Wis site, and select your naaʔuu dates for offers.

Tsawaak RV Resort & Campground is for nature lovers who want to stay outdoors or bring their own accommodations. Situated right next to Tin Wis Resort, and also operated by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. Phone the resort at 250-266-5015 to book your package directly.

Local tourism allies also have packages for these event dates: Tofino Resort and Marina is offering 15 per cent off for guests booking their naaʔuu package. Pacific Sands Beach Resort is offering 10 per cent off of the ticket price for guests booking their cultural package.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Calgary Herald online at



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