When I met Denny and Sara Durocher in 1977, they had already been living here in Port Alberni for almost four years. While it’s fair to say that they are largely known as active participants in many diverse social / community initiatives (including local and international Indigenous rights, women’s, environmental and anti-poverty issues), they also contributed their energy to our culture by helping to organize community film, crafts and musical initiatives.
They recently shared their personal involvement in the historic 1975 founding of World Council of Indigenous Peoples, the founding conference which was held here at the Tseshaht First Nation in 1975. (Their participation was documented by Comox-based film maker Dan Webb in his 2018 film Let’s Walk Together as One, available to watch on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U1d0VHZ8fc )
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Denny and learn more about his active involvement and contribution to the community for almost half a century.
Question: Denny, what has motivated your involvement with so many diverse community groups here in Port Alberni?
Answer: The common thread that connects the projects to which I have chosen to contribute my energy comes from my background and experience as a community organizer.
Your question requires a deeper look at how my wife and I came to Port Alberni back in 1973.
People often ask me, how did we end up in Port Alberni? By way of explanation, I often say that we “fled an oppressive regime from the south.”
My wife Sara was employed by West Coast General Hospital as a medical technologist within 24 hours of us arriving in town. After close to 20 years working in the medical field, she went on to work another 22 years at the science laboratories at North Island College.
Given my personal experience in employment projects for inner-city Black / Latino communities in the United States, it is not surprising that it would lead to me to doing similar work here in Port Alberni with youth and eventually with Nuu-chah-nulth communities.
A guiding principle of community organizers as well as social justice activists is that one doesn’t engage in such work for personal recognition. A community organizer doesn’t boast “Look what I have done for the community,” rather “Look at what WE have achieved by all working together.”
In the spirit of this guiding principle, I am proud to highlight my contribution of a few “grains of sand” to the balance of history in the community struggle for empowerment, change and social justice.
A couple of local community projects immediately come to mind.
With a team of community activists, we started up the Haahuupayak School on the Tseshaht First Nation reserve in 1976. It remains a continuous source of community pride after 44 years.
Another project to which I was proud to contribute is the Port Alberni Non-Profit Housing Association. Their community organizing efforts resulted in the vision and construction of Cool Waters, the beautiful community affordable housing development on Southgate Road in north Port Alberni.
What made the Cool Waters Project unique was that it united the organizing efforts of diverse low-income sectors of the community (Indigenous, women, mental health, and people with disabilities). Working individually, these diverse groups were unsuccessful in generating new housing units for low income clients. However, by joining forces they were able to collectively achieve their goal of safe and affordable housing for dozens of Port Alberni residents since 2000.
Considering the therapeutic benefit of stable housing, it is worth noting that a quarter of the original 20 residents of Cool Waters have had the benefit of safe, affordable housing over the past 21 years.
Mentioned here are just a few of the projects Sara and I have been involved in over the years: P.A Women’s Resources Centre, Alberni Coalition for Clean Air, P.A. Weavers Guild, Alberni Film Festival, CUSO, Marim Bam Buzz Marimba Group, Mohr Masala Celtic Music Group and the Canada Cuba Luthier Solidarity project.
An unforgettable quote attributed to Maya Angelou somehow became a guiding slogan for many of us who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s: “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” Perhaps it was this slogan that motivated many of our choices over the years, including our move to Canada in 1973 and many of the projects to which we contributed our energy.