Tyson Atleo is Charting the Future of Economic Development in the Emerald Edge

By Beth Geiger

Tyson Atleo is keenly aware of the deep connections between forests, fisheries and people in his native British Columbia. And no wonder: He’s a 27th-generation hereditary leader of the Ahousaht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the remote Clayoquot Sound. He was raised with the belief that people and the natural world are like one.

Tyson Atleo

For more than a decade, Tyson has worked in economic development and engagement with various indigenous groups, as well as Parks Canada. Now, he’s joined The Nature Conservancy as the economic development lead for the Emerald Edge — the green tapestry of communities, rainforest and rugged coastline that stretches from Alaska to Washington state.

Q&A With Tyson Atleo

The Nature Conservancy in Canada asked Tyson five questions about himself and his new role and economic development lead for the Emerald Edge.
Read his responses

The Emerald Edge contains some of Earth’s most lavish temperate rainforest. For more than a century, its economy has centered — often unsustainably — on extracting natural resources, especially timber and salmon. Meanwhile, indigenous communities that have been here for centuries have seen their ancestral lands and waters compromised and economic and social health put at risk.

We’ve worked in the Emerald Edge for decades, striving to protect rainforests and communities together. With Tyson on board, we can do even more. His position, filled in September, is a brand new role, and the only one of its kind within The Nature Conservancy.

Mayor Anthony "Tony" Christianson seine fishes for salmon in Eek Inlet near Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

“This is recognition of the importance of indigenous stewardship,” Tyson says, talking about the Conservancy’s commitment to Emerald Edge development. “It is conscious conservation, ensuring positive outcomes that make sense for humans.” He believes the Conservancy is “uniquely positioned to be flexible” in putting innovative development solutions into action.

Like Tyson, we understand that ecologic, economic and social health are intertwined in what is called the “triple bottom line” of sustainable business.

Tyson is exploring ways that the Conservancy can encourage sustainable alternatives to traditional resource extraction within Emerald Edge communities. His aim: foster leadership, provide access to resources and create wealth, all at once. “Economic development requires success in all three, at the same time,” he explains.

An aerial view of Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Photo credit: © Bryan Evans

Tyson also has a role in the Conservancy’s Global Lands team, which takes a whole landscape approach to environmental solutions. That means that lessons learned in the Emerald Edge will be shared worldwide.  

Ultimately, says Tyson, the goal is to support indigenous communities as long-term stewards of their environment, thriving both fiscally and spiritually. “We are ensuring that the community has the capacity to develop economically and in a way that they see fit, that is reflective of their values,” he says.

Explore More of the Emerald Edge

Banner Photo: Totem pole-raising ceremony in Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC