Tla-o-qui-aht Elder and Cultural Educator
Levi Martin was born in Opitsaht, a Tla-o-qui-aht Nation village on Meares Island, on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino. As a boy, he was given the name Kaa-mitsk, “fighter and hunter.” He set up snares, trapped birds, and spent many hours outdoors near Opitsaht. Levi was the youngest of 16 children, all born to George and Martha Martin. Nuu-chah-nulth was his first language, since he had no need to speak English until he was sent to the Christie Indian Residential School for native children run by the Catholic Church from 1898 to 1983. At age 11, he returned home to Opitsaht to continue his schooling, and as a teenager, he moved to Vancouver for a carpentry course and worked as a carpenter for one year.
Upon returning to Opitsaht in the early 1960s, Levi worked briefly in logging, then began Clayoquot Sound’s first water taxi business, taking tourists out to see whales and to go fishing. In 1976, Levi left the water taxi business and began carving and painting. He also began teaching native art and Nuu-chah-nulth language to younger Tla-o-qui-aht members as well as members of other Nuu-chah-nulth tribes. This was his opportunity to share knowledge, wisdom, and “a different way of doing things.” It became increasingly important to Levi to ensure that the Tla-o-qui-aht were learning as much as possible about their history and culture. For Levi, this is about “…getting back to the way of our people, to fight for ourselves instead of waiting for the [Canadian] government.”
In the late 1990s, Levi was part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Healing Project, a decade-long project in which facilitators like Levi worked with Nuu-chah-nulth survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Today, he is a recognized Elder, language teacher, and knowledge holder. His Nuu-cha-nulth name today, which was given to him by his older brother, is Kaa-muth, “one who is all-knowing.”