COVID-19 isn’t the first foreign disease that Indigenous people have had to seek refuge from. Five generations ago, on the west coast of what is today known as the province of British Columbia, a Nuu-chah-nulth woman named Tlaook brought family members to a hidden place in their territory, where they quarantined from diseases that decimated the rest of their nation.
This story is well known among the Tla-o-qui-aht people, and their ancestors’ insistence and insight continues to guide the nation’s unprecedented Tribal Parks program and conservation work.
“It’s not the first time our people have been impacted by diseases that have come from abroad. There is a common understanding that we can return to times of pandemics, and our elders wanted to ensure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren always have places to access clean water, clean air, our traditional food systems and places we can quarantine,” Eli Enns, from the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation told National Observer in a phone interview.