On the Mark: Ahousaht people deserve training

Gord Johns and Scott Fraser both want to recognize the Ahousaht First Nation for its role in rescuing survivors of the Leviathan II sinking.

Gord Johns and Scott Fraser both want to recognize the Ahousaht First Nation for its role in rescuing survivors of the Leviathan II sinking.

Johns, the Courtenay-Alberni MP, and Fraser, the Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA, are also on board with something more tangible. Johns is eager to read recommendations by the Transportation Safety Board once it completes its Leviathan II investigation.

In his first address to the House of Commons, he raised the dramatic Oct. 25 sinking off Tofino and the subsequent rescue of 21 whale watchers.

“Fishermen from Ahousaht First Nation were the first to arrive on the scene and began pulling survivors from the frigid waters,” he told fellow MPs.

Others, including members of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Tofino residents, rushed to the scene to help. They provided temporary shelter for those lucky enough to survive.

As he should, Johns particularly praised residents of the village of Ahousaht, where unemployment is as high as 70 per cent, for contributing $5 and $10 bills to buy gas for boats so the search for survivors could continue.

Fraser, who spoke in the provincial legislature about the matter, is on the same page as Johns. “The Nuu-Chah-Nulth are of the sea,” Fraser said in an interview. “They’re on the water all the time. This is not the first incident where they’ve been instrumental in saving lives.”

In 2013, an Ahousaht resident in the community of 1,400 was the first on the scene when a floatplane crashed off the coast near Tofino.

Fraser said he’s read accounts of Nuu-Chah-Nulth people risking their lives to save others on sailing ships shipwrecked as long ago as two centuries in the “graveyard of the Pacific.”

“We know that local and traditional knowledge saves lives,” Johns stated forcefully in a reply to the recent Liberals’ Throne Speech. “The federal government needs to stop closure of Comox MCTS, reopen Tofino MCTS in Ucluelet, and invest in local knowledge to support and improve Canada’s Coast Guard.”

He has met Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo and has begun to cultivate a relationship with the Nunavut resident, who is responsible for the Coast Guard.

At the least, medals should go to the heroes who risked their lives while braving the capricious Pacific to save imperilled whale watchers.

The government should consider funds to train the Ahousaht people, perhaps even establishing a maritime rescue training centre there in consultation with the band.

Mark Allan has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past 14 on Vancouver Island. His column about B.C. and federal politics will run every two weeks in the Alberni Valley News.

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