Timmy Masso was surrounded by supporters as he set up a blockade to prevent tourists from accessing the Kennedy Lake backroads on Tuesday.
“I’m so honoured to see the amount of people that are here supporting me and I hope that this is the first step in change and change that’s going to happen in the right way,” the 18 year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member told the Westerly News. “We all have to come together as the people that live on this West Coast and we have to find a proper solution.”
Masso spoke from the West Main Forest Service Road near the Tofino/Ucluelet area as his protest came into effect at 4 p.m. Tuesday, die to increasing frustratration with illegal campfires, discarded waste and disrespect to the environment.
“They use this place as a place to party and come have a small vacation and not really care about the consequences on the land. That is what I want to stop,” he said.
The event was held peacefully and remained respectful throughout the evening with Ucluelet RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Kevin Smith confirming to the Westerly News on Wednesday morning that there were no reports of violence or confrontation.
Smith said police attended the blockade strictly to “keep the peace.”
“We are not taking sides either way, we’re just there to keep the peace and make sure that things don’t escalate to assaults or threats or anything like that,” he said, adding RCMP had spoken with Masso prior to the event. “He’s there to educate people and hopefully stop people from going there and littering and destroying the environment.”
David Helmer and Hannah Hinz had travelled from Denman Island hoping to paddle in the area, but canceled those plans when they arrived at the blockade.
“We’re obviously not going to continue because we respect what’s happening here,” Helm told the Westerly.
“It’s not our land, so you really just have to listen to people whose land it is,” Hinz added. “It totally makes sense that if people aren’t going to treat it with respect, somebody’s going to say, ‘No.’”
Helmer and Hinz both rebuked the suggestion that a few disrespectful tourists were to blame.
“It’s not a few people, it’s the majority of people,” Helmer said. “As far as I can tell, the majority of people are the ones that leave garbage on roadsides and trailsides. It’s the minority of people that actually clean up after themselves.”
Gisele Martin is a Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardian who attended the blockade in support of Masso.
“There have been increasing amounts of people coming to squat in these places without knowing where they are over the last few years, decades actually, and the pressure is really increasing. Especially right now with the threat of fire and the amount of garbage and disrespect that’s happening, it’s become an emergency.”
Another group using the area are West Coast residents unable to find accomodation in town whose only housing option is to camp in the backroads.
Masso’s brother Hjalmer Wenstob attended the blockade in support, suggesting the West Coast’s backroads have become “decimated” and it’s up to all the communities in the region to work together to prevent further destruction.
“I’m really thankful that Timmy is standing up to defend his territory,” Wenstob said. “Sometimes you need a bit of a shock to restart it all and I think that’s what Timmy wants to do today, to get that conversation no longer just murmurs in the background, but loud and heard.”
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chief Councillor Moses Martin issued a statement calling for a meeting of regional leaders, Tourism Tofino and provincial and federal government officials “to find solutions to this critical issue.”