Aug 232019

British Columbia

Uchucklesaht Tribe launches luxury brand of bottled water drawn from Vancouver Island spring

Thunderbird Spirit Water
The water is drawn from the T’iitsk’in spring located in Uchucklesaht territory. (Thunderbird Spirit Water)

A small First Nation in B.C. is hoping to make a big splash in the bottled water business.

The Uchucklesaht Tribe has launched an artesian brand of bottled water drawn from a spring in its territory on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island.

Thunderbird Spirit Water, sold in sleek glass bottles, is the first commercial venture for the tribe of about 300 citizens.


Uchucklesaht is one of five nations that are signatories of the Maa-nulth Treaty. The move to self-government in 2011 gave the nation control over its economic development and has been critical to launching the new business venture, said elected Chief Charlie Cootes.

“It allows us to go out and look at opportunities that we never were able to look at before,” he said.

Uchucklesaht territory surrounds the pristine Hucuktlis Lake at the western end of the Alberni Canal. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the area is known as Thunderbird Nest and is a spiritually important place for the nations, Cootes said.

Niche market

Thunderbird Spirit Water is drawn from a spring in the area called or T’iitsk’in Paawats.

“We are looking for hotels and restaurants to serve it like the Pellegrino water that people always are drinking at high-end restaurants. So we are trying to get part of that market,” said Scott Coulson, Uchucklesaht CAO and the COO for the new company.

“It’s a niche market. We’re not selling plastic bottles. They are glass, high-end,” Cootes said.

The nation hopes the venture will provide employment through a bottling facility that is planned for Port Alberni.

A lot of work was also done to ensure Thunderbird Spirit Water is a sustainable product, Cootes said.

Giving back

“We have spent a lot of money to ensure that the flows where we access the water … that we are not taking too much water out of it.”

The Uchucklesaht officially launched the product this week at the Assembly of First Nations convention in Vancouver.

The nation says 10 per cent of sales will be donated to help provide safe drinking water to First Nations communities across the country.

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