New money announced for B.C. First Nations marine search and rescue

Three B.C. coastal Indigenous communities are receiving a share of $2 million to enhance marine search and rescue capacity.

The Quatsino First Nation, the Heiltsuk First Nation and the Kitasoo/Xai’sais Nation are among the eight First Nations receiving money for new boats, equipment and training, according to an announcement by the Canadian Coast Guard.

“Coastal First Nations communities are usually the first responders to any incident and this will assist us in many ways,” said Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt, speaking from Bella Bella.

The three B.C. recipients are members of the all-Indigenous Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary that has partnered with the Canadian Coast Guard to expand search and rescue operations in B.C. waters.

Indigenous mariners on the coast have been recognized for their role in saving lives in numerous disasters, bringing intimate knowledge of local marine landscapes to the fore.

Alec Dick, Ahousaht emergency response team co-ordinator, said the new funding will improve safety up and down the coast. 

“No matter the users of our water highways, we have to make sure we have the proper equipment in place to respond,” he said.

Last month, the Ahousaht First Nation launched a 29-foot, dedicated response vessel operated by trained auxiliary members.

According to pilot and CNCGA secretary treasure Luke Swan, it’s already making a difference in the waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“Yesterday, [Sunday] we got a call from a boat that had broke down way off shore … that had two people on board,” said Swan. “To go out there into the big sea was a challenge … but we got them fuel and were able to get them to safety. 

“Last week, a boat flipped … and we were able to get there in 12 minutes and the people were brought to shore,” he said.

The announcement of the new funding was timed to mark Indigenous Peoples Day.

The five other communities receiving money are the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, Innu Nation, Yellowknife Marine Rescue, Whitefish River First Nation and Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.

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