Mike Willie is a member of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation and founder of Sea Wolf Adventures. In a career that has spanned several decades, Mike has travelled the waters of the Broughton Archipelago, ferrying essential goods to remote communities and sharing the rich culture, wildlife and geography of BC’s rugged coastline.
We caught up with Mike to hear about his unique business and share his story.
What’s the story of Sea Wolf Adventures?
We’re a Canadian signature experience, which means we’ve been vetted by Destination BC and Destination Canada. We have a niche product, which is basically an all-in-one grizzly bear / wildlife / cultural experience that is completely unique to us.
It all started with a desire I had to reconnect with my community in Kingcome Inlet. I went up there and did something that we call a ‘fast.’ It involved me wandering the forest for four days and four nights looking for answers. I came out of it knowing that I wanted to provide a service to this community. Something that would allow me to reconnect with the community and with my family.
The idea grew from there into a broader water taxi service for the community, setting up a water link between Telegraph Cove and Alert Bay. One day, I decided I’d spend some time with the guests, give them some cultural background and see if they appreciate it. I visited the Cultural Centre with them and interpreted all the masks, shared the meaning behind them, and they loved it.
From there, it evolved into the tourism venture it is today. What hasn’t changed is the mandate. It’s all about reconnecting to our homelands.
So we bought a six passenger vessel, I employed my niece and my brother – well, he’s my cousin, but we don’t have a word for cousin – so the three of us have been on this adventure ever since and we’re excited to see where it takes us. We’re really culturally active, we’re revitalizing our language, we’re building capacity within our communities and employing our own people. I want to get our people off reserves and back connecting with our traditional territories, our history and our traditions. That’s what Sea Wolf Adventures is all about.
How important is conservation to Sea Wolf Adventures?
Conservation is really one of the key parts of Sea Wolf Adventures. We’ve been involved in the protection of Grizzly Bears, Wild Salmon, and really trying to conserve what we have for future generations. We held meetings with Minister George Heyman to see if we can come up with a different approach to wildlife within our territory. The Provincial Government currently has the mandate through the Wildlife Act. It was developed in the late 1800s and basically had no First Nations input.
We’re trying to promote change and let them know we have the right to manage wildlife within our traditional territory. Rather than just putting grizzly bears down if they get into garbage, we want to find a different solution. After all, it’s not the bear’s fault that humans make mistakes. We’re looking for ways we can relocate them instead. Hand-in-hand with this is the decline in numbers of wild salmon. We want to get the salmon farms out of our territory. If we can achieve that, wild salmon will thrive, the bears will thrive, and our First Nations people will thrive.
We want Indigenous peoples to stay within our traditional lands. We want them to realize there are opportunities right here within our own lands. With the history of residential schools, a lot of our people were displaced and never came home. This is part of our story.
What are the most popular tours you offer?
Our most popular tour is probably Grizzly Bears of the Wild. It’s a boat-based tour that leaves Port McNeill at seven in the morning and we travel through an archipelago that’s home to humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and eagles. Then, we go deeper into the fjords and we pass our village sites on the way. Some of them have been abandoned and we share the truth about our history and why they’ve been abandoned.
Then, we hit the grizzly bear viewing areas and our style of grizzly bear viewing is right down at ground level, we don’t use viewing platforms. Another style we employ is boat-based viewing, which is perfect for people who maybe aren’t comfortable walking in bear trails or people with mobility challenges. All of that is covered in one tour.
What role does storytelling play in your tours?
We like to share stories with our guests during the tours and they aren’t necessarily our ancient traditions or stories. It’s just about us and how our guides grew up within the area and their lived experiences. We have guides from different tribes, and we encourage them to share their stories. They talk about how they grew up, about their grandparents and where their tribes are from. That’s a part of our tours people really love. We talk about the past, the present and the future. A lot of that includes present day politics, what it’s like being First Nations and the challenges we face. We also share our successes and the direction we’re going in.
Why is it important for people to support small businesses like yours?
It’s about preserving the social fabric of our communities. Supporting small businesses is more ethical than shopping with big corporations. We talk a lot about conservation here at Sea Wolf Adventures and the best way to conserve and support your local community is to support the small businesses that live there.
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