T’ashii Paddle School

A Tofino-based entrepreneur has created a unique experience that offers canoe and paddle board tours within the context of First Nations culture and history. T’ashii Paddle School is a First Nations-owned business based in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Tsimka Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht woman, is co-owner of the T’ashii school, which offers cultural canoe tours and stand-up paddle board tours and lessons. In addition, T’ashii Paddle School offers two-day coastal stand-up paddle-boarding courses that are focused on specialized instruction and skill development.

 For Tsimka, T’ashii is somewhat of a family tradition. Not only is she continuing the cultural canoe tours that her sister, Gisele Martin, started a few years ago, but she is also continuing the strong tradition the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Peoples have with oceanic travel and dugout cedar canoes. In fact, Tsimka’s father, Joe Martin, is a master canoe carver, and she uses a traditional, handcrafted, 7.6-metre (25-) cedar dugout canoe that her father made.

From March to October each year, T’ashii offers guided canoe tours that provide a First Nations interpretation on Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture and history. Tsimka welcomes the opportunity to teach newcomers to her Nation’s territory. “It’s an important opportunity to educate people on our history and culture – including the time period of residential schools – from perspectives from within the Nuu-Chah-Nulth community.” She values having the ability to tell the history of her Nation and territory from the perspective of her people. She is careful and aware about how and what to share, and she follows her families’ protocols – to determine whether she is allowed to share certain songs or stories. “Making sure we don’t lose control of our cultural copyright and how certain aspects are shared. We have the opportunity to do it our own way,” she says.

This has not only empowered Tsimka but the staff at T’ashii are also trained to be able to enter and facilitate difficult discussions on the colonial history, which strengthens the staff with leadership and communication skills. This is particularly important as Tsimka employs several Nuu-Chah-Nulth youth. The youth not only attain transferable skills but also have the opportunity to learn about their history and culture, while making a living. “Being a leader in how things are done,” Tsimka says as she explains the importance of having her own people tell their story and their perspective and sharing their Nation’s history and culture. Tsimka’s leadership is evident in her entrepreneurial savvy and commitment to and respect for her Nation and culture.

T’ashii has been steadily growing since Tsimka and her partner, Emre, started in 2012. To start her business, she received a grant from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) to purchase her first canoe. In the down season (November through February), they have four full-time employees. In the high season (March through October), they employ seven full-time, and up to five part-time staff. She says it takes a while to get known through advertising, social media and word of mouth. The latter is key to T’ashii’s growth. Delivering quality service is essential, she says. As an illustration, TripAdvisor has 101 ‘5/5 Excellent’ reviews of T’ashii Paddle School at the time of writing.

 Those accolades are proof that Tsimka’s unique combination of outdoor recreation and cultural education is a winning formula.