Kevin Peters can’t stop grinning when he talks about the last 15 years he has spent as a First Nations Guardian of the West Coast Trail.
‘“It’s fun. You meet a lot of cool people, the work is very interesting,” said Peters, a member of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation who oversees the 25 kilometres of Huu-ay-aht territory on the trail.
Peters and dozens of other guardians, both past and present, were celebrated at a ceremony Friday at the Alberni Athletic Hall.
The guardians program was set up 20 years ago as a partnership between the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht first nations, whose territory the 75-kilometre-long West Coast Trail traverses. Each nation is responsible for 25 kilometres.
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Guardians keep the trail clear, offer first aid and information to travellers, but most importantly share their culture and history of the land.
“The agreement is more than what is says on paper,” says Huu-ay-aht Chief Derek Peters, whose late father Spencer was the signatory on the original agreement.
“What this agreement does is acknowledges the territory and the nations that live in the territories. That’s a really respectful thing. It allows us to educate the world about who we are and we get to meet the world.”
Karen Haugen worked with Parks Canada for 12 years before joining the Huu-ay-aht earlier this month. She was the manager responsible for implementing the guardian program with Parks Canada.
The guardians do much more than keep the trail safe, says Haugen: they enrich travellers’ experiences.
“They arrive to make a 75-kilometre adventurous hike but they leave with pieces of Canadian history by hearing about the land from the traditional guardians.
“It’s not the bridge system or the beauty they remember, it’s that personal connection that makes it the most memorable visit to our country.”
Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle presented Jeff Jones (Pacheedaht), Jack Thompson Sr. (Ditidaht) and Derek Peters (Huu-ay-aht) with the CEO’s award of excellence on Friday.