Welcoming Guests Among The Bears: Naomi Nicholson’s Tourism Dreams Come To Life
“The reason we explain who our family is is because we want to look for connections. Are we related? How are we related? The other part of always introducing yourself and where you're from is that's how we keep our oral traditions alive,” Naomi Nicholson explained. A self-described Ukrindian (Ukrainian and Indigenous) woman, she was born into Ahousaht First Nation, married into the Tseshaht First Nation. She’s a trailblazer who has triumphed over challenges and built a business she loves.
“Struggle Is a part of life. I think somewhere, we think that everything is going to be good and roses and we're not going to face adversity. That belief system is something that I want to say we have to change.”
“Growing upon the reserve, I learned how to be really quiet. I learned how to not expose too much of myself because we used to get picked on. I used to get beat up,” she recalled, reflecting on the discrimination she faced for being half Indigenous and half White.
“It seems really real and big at the time, but it will pass.”
The relationship choices her mother made were difficult for Nicholson and ultimately her mother left to be with a sex offender and domestic abuser. Her mother’s alcoholism also had an impact. “My father raised three very traumatized children,” Nicholson recounted.
To compensate, Nicholson’s father put the kids in sports, where they learned about teamwork, emotional self-regulation and dealing with disappointment. “We had a lot of very positive influence with sports. I would really credit that to me staying out of trouble, learning the work ethic and determination and what it takes to work as a team,” she reflected. Once they picked a sport they had to stick with it, even if they didn’t enjoy it.
“There's always going to be the sun. We need the rain and we also need the sun.”
They moved off reserve and Nicholson felt disconnected from her Ahousaht community. Through sports, she felt a sense of connection working towards a common goal. Her sport of choice was hockey. The first female hockey referee in Port Alberni, next nominated as the most promising official in BC, she got to referee in the winter games.
While she excelled at sports, she struggled in school with math and as a result never graduated. Berated by a racist teacher, she was called a “stupid Indian”, something she believed about herself until she met Jan Green, a special educator. Jan encouraged her to go back to school and told her she was a strong, beautiful woman.
“All of this education it's building steps and you just don't know when you're gonna need it for some part in your life.”
She was finally able to pass math and continue on with her education, obtaining a recreation and sport management diploma and a Bachelor of Tourism Management from Vancouver Island University. Nicholson used what she learned to start her own wellness center which she’s operated for ten years. She provides holistic health advice, taught workshops and did shiatsu massage. She started and expanded a bed and breakfast with her husband.
“We do have the strength of our ancestors and of our aunties who will cheer us on to say, ‘you are a strong indigenous woman’.”
After nearly taking her own life, she faced racism in the hospital. She reflected on how much harder things are living life as an Indigenous person but also the resilience that comes with it. She went to university to be able to make enough money to leave a toxic relationship with a drug addicted Indigenous man. Nicholson did rehab with him where she learned about residential schools and learned how to forgive her mother. After moving on from her past, she was able to build a brighter future.
“Any education is good education. Nobody can take it away from you. You always own it. It's always going to be good for something.”
She learned in university and also from the teachings of Jack Canfield. Nicholson credits her success and pulling herself out of depression in part to the law of attraction “Right now I am wholly living my dream. I have a man who loves me. He's very stable. He understands my trauma and being insecure about him leaving me or addictions and alcohol. We built our dream home and we've expanded our business,” she beamed.
Through those teachings, Nicholson has found strength in quotes like “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right” and the idea “Whatever you believe, you receive.” “Sometimes the “how” to shows up after you've made the decision. And I'll say that again, the “how to” shows up after you've made the decision. So if you decide you want to go to school and you don't know how you're going to pay for it, something's going to happen,” she counselled.
Looking forward, she is planning to offer Indigenous tourism with seafood dinners and Indigenous paint nights. Her bed and breakfast is called Chims Guest House because there are bears who walk through the property. Chims means bear in Nuu-chah-nulth. Nicholson hopes to get back to teaching in person post-pandemic because she feels it keeps her healthy.
This “Ukrindian” trailblazer is a strong advocate for education, a tourism and wellness business owner and someone with an open door to anyone who wants to learn from her and be supported in their own story. After being raised on reserve, finding community on the ice, Naomi Nicholson has built a business on the land and found a love that helps sustain her.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.