A Vision for Hesquiaht Territory
In Clayoquot Sound, Josh Charleson is working with the Hesquiaht Nation to articulate a new vision for the lands within his traditional territory.
Clayoquot Sound is a stunning mosaic of emerald valleys, clustered islands, and ancient trees along British Columbia’s southern coast. Three of the region’s First Nations—the Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht—are working to create a new vision for the future of this landscape and the people who’ve lived there since time immemorial.
“We’re making long-lasting decisions — they’ll last decades and decades, if not centuries,” says Josh Charleson of the Hesquiaht Nation. “It only works if people are a part of it.”
With support from Nature United, Josh is working with the Hesquiaht Nation as the Land Use Vision Coordinator for his Nation to articulate a new vision for the lands and waters within his traditional territory.
"To me, this vision means everything. I'm always up in Hesquiaht Harbour—that's where I grew up—I bring my children there now; I want it to be a healthy place."
Listening to Communities
“We need to engage with as many Hesquiahts we can, because the land-use vision is a product of everyone in Hesquiaht, not just a few people on a core team. It’s based on what everybody wants and needs,” he says. “My job is to talk to Hesquiaht and make sure everything is on the map in a way that everyone can understand.”
Nature United has worked in Clayoquot Sound since 2012, helping to safeguard some of the planet’s largest stores of forest carbon. Our approach is to blend economy, nature, and local stewardship—ensuring the communities who know the land best are in a position to care for it for generations to come. To accomplish this, we’re supporting First Nations as they develop land-use visions that will ensure economic opportunities and protect natural resources like trees, fish, and clean water. We’re also working with the First Nations to establish a stewardship endowment that will fund First Nations-led management of natural resources for generations to come.
A Healthy Place
A member of the Hesquiaht Nation, Josh grew up in Hot Springs Cove, a small community about an hour and a half north of Tofino. His career has led him to a variety of stewardship roles, working as a fisheries manager in his hometown, then alongside biologists with the community’s travel council. Since 2016, he and his wife have owned an eco-tourism company called Kaaxna Advenutres, based in Tofino. Today, Josh plays a critical role as the Hesquiaht’s land-use vision is being completed.
“To me this vision means everything,” he says. “I’m always up in Hesquiaht Harbour – that’s where I grew up, I bring my children there now; I want it to be a healthy place.”
Hope for the Future
Nature United and its global affiliate The Nature Conservancy has championed this community-led, holistic approach in other parts of Canada: More than a decade ago, we were invited by local partners to join conservation efforts in the nearby Great Bear Rainforest. More than 19 million acres of the largest intact coastal rainforest remaining on Earth are now designated as conservation or sustainable management areas, and the $120 million Coast Opportunity Funds were established to support stewardship and sustainable economic growth across the region.
The Hesquiaht land-use plan will support local, sustainably economic development—like eco-tourism and sustainable forestry—meeting the needs of the community who frequently name jobs and accessibility as key concerns for the future. Put simply, Josh says: “All Hesquiaht have the same thing in common: We want to see the territory protected and under our management.”
“The biggest thing I hope is for every visitor to know they’re in Hesquiaht First Nation territory,” he says, “to know the traditional names of the places, to understand that this where our people are from. It’s our home.”