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living the coastal life

West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

A Mountain that Symbolizes a Nation

Catface Mountain is a symbol of the Clayoquot Sound region. It has been a part of the skyline for thousands of years. From the Nuu-Chah-Nulth village of Ahousaht on Flores Island, it dominates the landscape and is visible from nearly every vantage point. From Tofino, it stands alongside Meares Island’s Lone Cone Mountain – Brothers in stone, literally, as these two mountains are made from the same subterraneous chunk of rock.

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In the early 1800’s, there was a great war in this region that lasted for 14 years. The land where Ahousaht now is, belonged to the Otsosaht people. There were many battles and stories of the war. One of them goes like this:

The Ahousaht’s put their women, children and chiefs high on Catface Mountain where they would be safe during the fighting. Here, the warriors also prepared for battle. They cut down massive trees and carved them into canoes. The trees had been fallen so they pointed downhill. When they were ready to be launched, smaller logs were placed crossways beneath the canoes and they were rolled downhill to the sandy beach at the base of the mountain. From here the warriors paddled to the east side of Kutcous Point and under the cover of darkness they attacked the Otsosaht tribe. Many were beheaded and those who survived were sent south and they ended up settling in what is now Washington State.

The heads were put on stakes around the island as a warning to others who might try to take on the Ahousahts. Kutcous means – heads cut off, in warfare. One story tells of how the river here ran red with blood for 3 days after the battle.

This war was for resources, just like in European cultures and the wars still happening today – Land, water, fuel and food. The Otsosaht had control of the salmon rivers and clam beds. The Ahousaht people wanted their share.

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Catface Mountain protected the Ahousaht people and prepared them for battle. It gave sustenance, shelter and the means of transportation.

At the base of the mountain are a series of rocks that jut out into the water. Here is the most dangerous part of our modern commute to and from Tofino. During calm weather, boats may take a shortcut through the rocks. Kelp and submerged reefs are are a very real danger to even the most experienced captain. Only the most nimble of boats can make it through the gap. In rough weather all boats go around the rocks. Large swells and more hidden reefs present further dangers. At night, or in rough weather, family and other boat drivers listen out for the call that a boat has “made it around Catface”. They aren’t home yet, but the greatest danger has passed.

Catface Mountain will always be a symbol of strength to the Ahousaht people of Clayoquot Sound. We awake under it’s shadow as the sun rises behind it and we go to sleep as it glows pink as the sun sets. It is and always will be a symbol of home.

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*Marcie moved to Ahousaht as a teacher in 2014. Here she met and become engaged to Lennie John, an Ahousaht man whose home was nicknamed “Mountainview” in honour of the stunning view of the regions mountains, including Catface.

**The stories surrounding the Ahousaht-Otsosaht war have many versions. This is just one account. Other versions may have different details.

For more information please see:  http://www.guidethewildside.com/resource/kutcous.pdf

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #5

Yesterday afternoon came the good news – The waterline was fixed! During the daytime low tide our team of local men and women rebuilt a berm around the broken pipe, close to 2 meters high. Using 4 pumps they kept the seeping water at bay while accessing and repairing the large crack.

Three boats floated nearby for emergencies or delivering supplies – including hot coffee.

Though the pipe is repaired and we have fully treated water again, we will be on a boil water advisory until a series of tests come back clean. The crew has been flushing the water lines and treating with chlorine to treat the pipes. Volunteers are still bringing jugs of water around to homes, as for some, especially the elders, it is easier to use the bottled water than fill, move and boil large amounts in a pot.

Donations are continuing to be sent, for which we are infinitely grateful. Though Lennie and I tried not to strain the communities resources by asking for water to be brought to us, a large 24 pack of bottles was brought to our home last night. I plan on storing what we do not use for  future emergencies. We need to be prepared to go through this again and we may not have the benefit of outside community support – especially if it is due to a large scale disaster.

I am going to campaign for rain barrels to be installed at each home – at the very least it can be used for toilet flushing water and if boiled and treated it could possibly be used for cooking and drinking.

I am so thankful for everyone who came together in this emergency. From our water plant and maintenance  workers, to the men, women and youth who volunteered to sandbag, unload boats and deliver water, to the individuals who ran the admin office – updating the community on the situation as it unfolded and coordinating donations and boats to bring them to Ahousaht, to the boats and vehicle drivers who delivered the water to Ahousaht, to all the communities, companies, and individuals who coordinated water donations in town, to everyone who fought the trailer fire on Saturday and to absolutely everyone who offered their prayers and support from near and far. Ahousaht could not have done it without all of you.

Klecko klecko!

 

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #4

I was hoping post 4 would be the end of our saga but the battle will continue for at least another day.

Monday morning came. Our 4th day with no potable water but at least now they had activated the bypass and we had running water throughout the village. Residents were urged not to consume the water or use it to wash dishes unless it had been adequately boiled.

Sandbagging occurred again on Monday. Despite the now higher low tides, the crew – made up of local men and women, were going to try the repair again around 9:30pm. One of the boys basketball teams came to help sandbag, as well as men and women of all ages. All the volunteers are locals. It’s worth noting everything is happening because of local effort and labour. I found it really heartwarming to see the next generation of community leavers stepping up to the plate to help with labour, distribution of water and boil water notices.

Two of the pumps that were supposed to be put in use on Sunday night had been pulled for repairs. One had no suction and was useless at moving water from the area around the broken pipe. The other was seized. Our friend Wymon has experience in small engine repair and stepped in to help. He was able to get one up and running in time for Monday night’s attempt.

Around 9:30pm, in conjunction with the low tide, the team assembled. Despite their renewed efforts and the assistance of an excavator (which broke down partway down the hill to the site) they were unable to accomplish repairs. The team has been plagued with complications. The home-brewed team of  water treatment plant workers and volunteers deserve professional help – but with their heart and determination I can bet they will get it done on their own anyways, because that’s how Ahousaht is.

In general, outside help rarely arrives quickly. We are often stormbound in the winter and must look to ourselves for the solution and support we need. The government has been sluggish to respond in any matter – But I am comforted by the fact that our MP Gord Johns has been in contact with Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, to urge her Federal support.

In our situation – if we did not have the outside support of nearby communities on Vancouver Island we would have been hard pressed to get this far. Without their financial and water donations we would have been in very dire straights. There are no stores in Ahousaht to buy water. Tofino Co-op would have quickly run out of supplies for us and it would have taken a very extreme mobilization effort to get our own vehicles to Port Alberni, Nanaimo or Victoria and back with bottled water.

In a Facebook post on Monday, I contemplated this same scenario but with an earthquake as the cause of our struggles:

“As we have all learned through this experience, we are very vulnerable in an emergency. If we had an earthquake that ruptured our water lines we would be in the same situation but unable to rely on as much outside help. I learned that I did not have enough drinking water on hand for an emergency but could have boiled/treated our rain barrel water if needed. I think it’s really important for every house to have 3 days worth of water for each person in their home. Hopefully we can have more conversations after this on how each family can prepare for emergencies.  so many thanks to all our workers who have done so much to help everyone at home! And thank you to all the donations to our community

It is so important that we look at what we learn from this. We might not be able to rely on outside water donations the next time we are faced with this struggle.

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Part 5

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #3

Saturday Afternoon, elders, disabled and those with babies under a year were given the option to evacuate to Tin Wis Best Western in Tofino. Many chose to stay however.

On Sunday, day 3 with no water, donations began arriving from Victoria, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino. Both businesses and individuals came together to donate water and individuals donated their time to drive water from these locations to the dock in Tofino.

Lennie and I were so lucky to be able to have a shower at a friend’s home in Tofino. Ironically the water had disappeared on Friday just as I had gone to have a much needed shower! The hot stream of water we doused in yesterday was heavenly

The leak was found Sunday afternoon – Underwater of all places. The broken pipe is estimated to be 40-50 years old – Long overdue for replacement it seems. Around 8 pm the crew assembled to sandbag around the leak and try to pump out the area to access the buried pipe. Unfortunately the one pip could not keep up with the sea water and leaking pipe water to drain the area fast enough. The pipe itself could not be located below the sediments before the tide rose again by 10pm. The crew is looking at more options during a meeting at 9 am Monday morning – Day 4.

Plans will be difficult to execute from this point forward as we don’t have any more extremely low tides until Dec. 27th. Divers are being considered to do the repairs while the location remains underwater.

I will continue to update as the situation unfolds. This whole scenario has made everyone so much more thankful for our regular lives and plentiful water. We have a much stronger connection to the essential nature of water in all it’s forms. This has been eye opening as to what the residents of Flint, Michigan experience daily with their lead-laden water and the purpose behind the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota (several Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Ahousaht members are in attendance there!). These are issues we always believed in, but experiencing it for yourself makes your motivation to solve these international issues just that much stronger.

There are communities around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water. We are going through this for a few days to weeks – But there are communities right here in Canada who have not had clean drinking water for generations.

Thank you for everyone’s support and encouragement. We will make it through this!

Post 4

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #2

Ahousaht had been without running water for 12 or so hours when the call came over the radio that smoke was coming out of the windows of a trailer on the reserve. The men working tirelessly on the water situation, also make up most of our volunteer fire department. Many other firefighters were also out of town, but those that were here responded in force. Bucket brigades were set up while the tanker truck and hoses were hooked up. The hydrant, 50 feet away, was useless.

The smoke could be seen from our home, a big black pillar towering over the trees. By the time I arrived the trailer was already fully engulfed in flames. The windows were blown out and the roof had begun collapsing. RCMP were on scene to begin investigating the cause. At that point we could not determine if anyone had been inside at the time. Though no one was living in the home, people had been seen inside at night. We don’t believe anyone was inside, thankfully and no one was injured during the firefighting.

Men and women were dumping buckets on the fire with what little water they could find. A truck was taken down to the docks to fill up containers with sea water. The trailer itself would be impossible to save so efforts were put on dampening a nearby home. It’s siding had already begun to warp from the heat. Someone climbed on top of the roof to pour buckets from the top. When the tanker truck was set up they were able to use a hose to better soak the neighbour’s house and then begin knocking the flames back.

When the truck’s tank ran out they had to drive around to the water treatment plant. While they were there the fire flared up significantly again. One man kept up his own bucket line from a tub of sea water, putting out flare ups in the grass. It took three refill trips to knock the fire down to a point where they were content to let it smoulder for the night.

It was scary and emotional to watch the trailer burn. It had been several families homes over the years. For me personally – One of my dog’s previous owners used to live there and my dogs would run up to their porch when they could. Now it’s a heap of blackened rubble.

The fire exacerbated our water struggle but also provided a distraction. When we all went home there was still no tap water, no water in our toilet tank and still no showers. I had soot in my hair and reeked of smoke. I can’t imagine how it must of been for the men right in the midst of it.

All photos copyright Marcie Callewaert.

Part 3

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #1

Water is Life.

It’s situations like these that you realize how much we rely on water. Water truly is life.

We can’t wash our hands or flush the toilet. We can’t make coffee or tea. We can’t brush our teeth. We can’t have a drink of water. We can’t have a shower or bath. We can’t water our plants or put a water dish out for our pets.

It’s dangerous and unhealthy to not have running water and the whole village is being faced with this at once. Ahousaht lost it’s water supply suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of Dec. 16th 2016. There was no loss of pressure – Just unresponsive taps across the reserve. I found out when I went to take a much needed shower – not even a drop came out as I turned the taps on full blast. Nothing in the sink either or in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the VHF was buzzing with various households confirming that they also had not water. Then came the realization that many of our maintenance workers were out of the village. There was only one staff member on reserve.

For most of the night, men walked the water lines to find the leak. Short water shortages are the norm in Ahousaht – leaks, high demand and dry spells can all reduce our water availability on a regular basis. We usually are placed on water restrictions to allow the tanks to have the time to refill. We are typically ok by morning or within a day or two, but still have clean water flowing from our taps the whole time. No leaks were found by the team overnight so the group reconvened in the morning. A water treatment plant specialist was also brought in.

Emergency water stored in Ahousaht was distributed throughout the village in the morning. Elders had priority. Over the morning more water was purchased and brought in. As with all our freight, water was offloaded from vehicles at the government dock in Tofino and put onto boats before being transported for 35 min to Ahousaht on Flores Island. There it was unloaded onto a truck again and distributed immediately. Everything seemed to be working smoothly in general. Water was coming in and the men were working on the plant. And then came the call – Fire.

PART 2

The Perfect Breakfast Date for a Rainy Day

Furniture deliveries in the small community of Ahousaht are a big deal. They involve hiring a truck from town, travelling by boat to Tofino to meet the truck, chartering a boat back to Ahousaht and hiring another truck. Usually there’s a couple hour wait in there too, as the delivery window isn’t any narrower just because we have to travel to meet them. For Lennie and I this process left us with 3 hours to kill while we waited for our delivery slot to arrive.

Our first stop was Tuff Beans coffee shop. Their 4th St. Wrap is our favourite on the go breakfast available in Tofino. Stuffed with eggs, sausage, bacon, ham and hashbrowns, it’s an all-round meal not to be missed! With a quad Americano and creamy hot chocolate to top our order off we jumped in the car and drove 20 min. to the Incinerator Rock parking lot at Long Beach. On an early Saturday morning in December, both the village and roads were deserted. Incinerator Rock is our parking lot of choice because you get a stunning ocean view without leaving your car. On a rainy day like this, that’s exactly what we were looking for!

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When you’re done breakfast, don’t just pack up and leave. Take some time to really watch the waves and patterns of the sea. Enjoy the present moment. It was while we were enjoying that moment that we got a call about our furniture delivery – They wouldn’t be making it afterall! More time for us I guess… (though no couch to sit on when we got home!)

Remember, whatever the weather, there’s always a way to enjoy Tofino!

The Final Hurdle

The boat soared upwards, plowing through the mountain of water surging in front of it. Lennie, the skipper, pulled back on the throttle as the reached the crest of the wave. There was a pause. Then the 20 ft long boat, began sliding down the back side of the swell into the looming maw of the trough in front of them. Over and over Lennie guided the boat through the everchanging roller coaster of water below them. Finally came the wait. Lennie had to time the waves before cutting across the point of rocks jutting out in the the sea.

This is the final hurdle to get into Hotsprings Cove – Home to about 70 full time residents, the tiny community is home to the Hesquiaht First Nations band on the remote western coast of Vancouver Island.

Most tourists don’t see Sharp Point at it’s worst. They experience scenic boat cruises on calm seas or fly into the inlet on a sea plane. The locals have to brave these rough winter seas near daily in order to carry on their everyday life. Doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, basketball tournaments all happen outside of the community and residents must take a boat around the Point to get there.

On the third wave Lennie made his move. Turning broadside to the waves he charged along the backside of the swell. He repeatedly checked over his shoulder to see what was coming up alongside and behind the boat. A simple miscount could send them hurdling over in a whitewash of breaking water. When he was clear of the rocks, he turned the boat and rode into the inlet on the back of the swell. The timing had to be perfect. Both the wave in front or behind them could break. He had to match the speed of the swell and stay balanced on the back of the swell in front of him.

Eventually the waves lost their force as they travelled deeper into the narrow cove. Lennie could relax – for now. He had made it safely to the dock. But now he had to load up with passengers, and do it all over again.

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Sharp Point on a calm December day, 2016

Community Christmas Spirit

Every year in Ahousaht, a different family hosts the community Christmas Dinner. This year was us! The new hosts announce themselves a year ahead of time, so our announcement was made in 2015. It is an interesting process to host a party here. The responsibility does not fall to just one person, but in some ways it still does. Donations are given and written down, scratched off, changed and altered. In the end, it all comes together.

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Lennie and I funded most of the dinner and did the majority of the purchasing of food and supplies -The rest of the family really came together to help with the cooking and preparation in the days ahead of the event. Cedar roses were woven for decorations, Napkins and cutlery were wrapped, Tables were set and most importantly, turkeys were cooked! Community members donated their ovens and time to cook for our meal.

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It is interesting how little Christmas spirit, I personally, felt throughout the course of the event. But I think it’s because I let the stress get to me. Instead of relaxing and letting the evening take on a life of its own, I stressed about things I could not control and worried about little details that no one but myself would notice. I relaxed when the dancing began. It was fun and lighthearted and I got to see Lennie dance, which was a real treat.

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By the end of the night, my feet were so sore I couldn’t walk home. It was great to kick back with a cup of tea and chat with our guests from Tofino that came over to Flores Island to celebrate with us. We slept well and were up again early the next morning. I had to head down to the hall to complete the rest of the cleaning, and thankfully I was joined by another woman (As I didn’t actually know where anything went!).

Now we begin saving to do it all over again for our wedding celebration – July 2017!

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