The Secret to Tiičma Enterprises’ and Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ / Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations’ Development Success

From outdoor and nature-based tourism to aquaculture opportunities,Tiičma Enterprises is building prosperity and opportunity on Kyuquot Sound, Vancouver Island.

Houpsitas, the home community for Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ / Che:kles7et’h’ First Nations (KCFN), is surrounded by stunning wilderness. Pristine forests and rugged coastlines define the landscape. The wind and wave-worn beaches of the rugged west coast contrast with the calmer waters of Kyuquot Sound. Although many KCFN members live outside their home community, pursuing work opportunities or education in Campbell River and beyond, the wilderness setting is a constant draw towards home.

Whether it’s returning home or for visitors seeing the region for the first time, travelling to Houpsitas is a journey. From Campbell River, it’s a 3-hour drive. This includes 75-kilometres on a gravel road, passing Zeballos, ʔiiḥatisʔatḥ činaxint First Nation (Ehattesaht Chinehkint) and Nuchatlaht First Nation, to reach Fair Harbour. It’s then a one-hour water taxi to the community.

Tiičma Enterprises, the economic development corporation wholly owned by KCFN, works with a clear goal to create opportunities for its members.

“We aren’t doing business as usual,” says Gary Wilson, CEO, Tiičma Enterprises. “We work on behalf of the shareholders and our shareholders are the local people. Our goals are for citizens to have opportunity.”

Progress isn’t without its challenges. The community is connected to a limited-capacity electrical grid that makes expansion difficult. Housing is in short supply, too; however, Wilson and his staff at Tiičma embrace these obstacles as opportunities.

“During the long COVID-related closures, we talked about reducing our footprint in extractive industries,” says Wilson, “so we’ve really grown and cultivated our tourism products.”

Infrastructure concerns at the original Walters Cove Resort forced KCFN to look for a new home for their award-winning property. They started by leasing a floating lodge for one year. During the lease, and with co-investment with partners including Island Coastal Economic Trust, they purchased the floating lodge and established a permanent mooring location near the original Walters Cove Resort.

The KCFN-owned Walters Cove Resort is a floating resort on northwest Vancouver Island.
Walters Cove Resort, an award-winning fishing lodge, is permanently moored in Kyuquot Sound but the nation aims to beach it to save overhead costs and expand their operating season.

“Sportfishing will always be a part of the business,” says Wilson, “but introducing the cultural aspect will continue to help grow our customer base.”

They introduced cultural aspects subtly, first adding décor at the new lodge, followed by a traditional welcome to all new guests. Every itinerary now includes a traditional salmon BBQ, hosted by KCFN Elder Daisy Hansen. The meal gives visitors an opportunity to see traditional cooking methods, using cedar sticks and an open fire, and taste fresh salmon and bannock. During the meal, Hansen shares KCFN’s culture and history through traditional stories.

“We weren’t sure how it would be received,” says Terry Schultz, General Manager, Tiičma Hospitality, “but it’s become a highlight for most of our guests. Daisy does an amazing job sharing her culture, and it becomes emotional for many guests. It’s a big hit.”

Daisy Hansen, a Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ / Che:kles7et’h’ First Nations Elder, welcomes guests to Walters Cove Resort and hosts a salmon BBQ during their stay.

The hospitality division reaches well beyond Walters Cove Resort, operating several other tourism businesses. They’ve expanded Fair Harbour Marina and Campground. It’s now a full-service facility with cabins, camping, moorage, fuel dock and year-round convenience store. It’s also the jumping off point for water taxis to the community, where they host community guests at Houpsitas Village Suites.

When they purchased West Coast Expeditions, an established guided sea kayaking business with 50-years experience on the coast, they also retained co-owner and KCFN member Bev Michel as its manager.

“We had an established client base before,” says Michel, “and I thought it was important that the company belongs to the Nations. The first year that we were owned by KCFN, we really moved forward.”

The changes followed a similar path as the fishing lodge. They introduced cultural elements, including working with Elders to share cedar weaving and language lessons. On longer, five-day itineraries, they include traditional storytelling, singing, and drumming experiences.

“The customers love the whole thing,” says Michel. “They’re intrigued by our stories and our language. We always want to educate visitors to our territories, teaching them about our past and what we look forward to.”

Looking ahead focuses on introducing more employment opportunities and economic development across Kyuquot.

“It’s amazing to be part of the Tiičma team,” says Kevin Jules, Economic Development Officer, Tiičma Enterprises. “We have so many people that have had to work away from the community, but our goal is to bring people home.”

Creating long term employment opportunities requires a consistent and strategic approach. Tiičma follows its five-year strategic plan, developed in 2022, to build economic security and self-sufficiency for our Nations. Whether diversifying business operations or developing new opportunities, capacity building is a leading focus.

“It’s really about our future generations,” says Jules. “I want my son to step into these roles where he feels he would fit within the Nations. Just to have these opportunities isn’t enough. We want to also help provide the education to support being able to work at home.”

Tiičma strives to create a work environment that empowers and prioritizes its members. They write inclusive job descriptions that focus on natural attributes rather than technical skills that can be learned on the job. They’ve implemented a new program at Walters Cove Resort to introduce members to a variety of roles. For senior roles, they’ve built succession plans into their long-term strategy.

For existing businesses, they’re focused on stability and long-term growth. As a floating lodge, Walters Cove Resort must be dry-docked every five years for an extensive – and required – inspection process. While it’s an expense all floating lodges face, Walters Cove Resort has a permanent home in Kyuquot; it doesn’t travel to different locations.

“Our priority is to permanently install the lodge on land in the territory next year,” says Schultz, “to avoid the costs and need to dry dock it. In 2026, we will expand the season.”

The current fishing season is mid-June to early September when fishing season is at its peak. It’s already grown, from 50 guests in 2015 to more than 300 last year. By introducing more culture and nature-based tourism opportunities, Schultz hopes the season can extend further, from May through October. Throughout the off-season, the lodge is still used. KCFN administration host meetings and conferences, while community members hold events and gatherings.

Beyond tourism, Tiičma has also grown new business opportunities. They’ve built a secure logistics and staging facility at Fair Harbour for Tiičma Fisheries. The facility will not only reduce its transportation costs, but also help expand its shellfish aquaculture operations. They have also acquired a significant forest tenure, where they plan to implement sustainable forestry practices.

They are also exploring opportunities to further develop the community, including technology and clean-energy initiatives that would eliminate their dependency on the existing limited electric supply. Both Fair Harbour and Houpsitas require additional electrical capacity before significant growth can occur.

“We want to become carbon neutral,” says Wilson, “but we want to do it through business opportunity. We try to attract mission-aligned organizations with patient capital.”

They’re determined to diversify their business portfolio and expand their existing businesses. They have already been recognized for their success, too, winning multiple awards including the 2023 BC Achievement Indigenous Business Award. By maintaining their consistent and focused approach, they feel they’re just getting started.

“Our businesses support the Nations’ priority to reduce our footprint in extractive industries,” says Wilson. “We are shifting to an ecosystem-based model that prioritizes the health of the place and the health of the people.”

Island Coastal Economic Trust has invested with the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ / Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations for multiple projects. These investments include:

Capital and Innovation program investments:

Investment Highlights:

  • Across four projects, Island Coastal Economic Trust has inveseted $679,500 with Tiičma Enterprises. This investment has helped attract nearly $3.0 million in total investment, equalling $3.37 for each dollar contributed by the Trust.
  • Tiičma Enterprises has won multiple awards, including:
    • 2023 BC Achievement Indigenous Business Award
    • 2024 Indigenous Business of the Year from the Vancouver Island Business Excellent Awards
    • 2024 Best Indigenous Seafood from the Commercial Fishing Enterprise Gathering
  • By creating and following their economic development strategy, tiičma and Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ / Che:kles7et’h’ First Nations have successfully led three major infrastructure projects that have helped diversify their business portfolio.