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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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Thanksgiving in Our Corner of the World

Lennie and I perfectly choreographed a two person thanksgiving dinner, with enough food for 10. Therefore, we have leftovers to last for days! Lennie did most of the cooking, Turkey (even though our calculations were off and it was definitely still frozen as it went in the oven!), stuffing and gravy. I did jelly-carrot-salad (Sunrise Salad?), brussel sprouts with cheese sauce and the mashed potatoes. It was quite lovely and we slipped into a food-coma quickly afterwards!

We did manage to go on a lovely late afternoon walk. We went a different way through the village this time. Along the dirt road behind the school, across to the cranberry field and down to the community garden and greenhouse. The gardens aren’t getting much attention nowadays. The grass is long and overgrown, but the fruit trees are still producing and I even found a spindly grape vine staked to a pole.

Leia had a blast bouncing all over from one spot to another. I think she likes to pretend to be a fox and pounce through the long grass. She was quite ecstatic to find a drainage ditch to play in and her and Bruce both took turns going for a swim. We kept Yoda on leash as I didn’t feel like going swimming if he fell in accidentally.

The nice thing about this spot is that no other dogs live nearby, yet it’s nice and open so we can let the big dogs run around. There’s also a small beach 2 minutes away where no one really goes either. Another bonus for us!I have half a mind to start tending the gardens while the dogs run about. I bet there are all kinds of surprises in the grass.

I also practiced Leia’s recall. She tries to run and dodge away from me, but if I just keep up a steady pace and firm pressure, she bows down and lets me grab her collar. No treats this time either! It’s definitely progress to be proud of!

This Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for my family, near and far – human, furry and feathered!

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Moving to the Coast

Many people ask me how I ended up here. I ask myself that too. Growing up on Vancouver Island, I only visited Tofino twice. I was in love with a place I could rarely go. Living in the Tofino area was a pipe dream. I had no inkling that it could ever be reality for me.

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In 2014, during my last year of the B.Ed. program at UVic, I started looking for teaching jobs. The job market was difficult to get into at that point. Now, 4 years later, there is a massive province wide teacher shortage. But back then, it was difficult to even get on Teacher on Call lists, let alone find a full time job. Broadening my horizons, I began to look for postings at First Nations Schools on Reserves. These jobs have a high turnover rate for various reasons. For me, the location was the main draw. I wanted to be surrounded by Nature, and the chance to live in an Indigenous Community and experience the Culture first hand was not an opportunity to be passed up lightly!

I ended up applying and interviewing for two different schools – One in Kingcome Inlet and Ahousaht. My interview for Kingcome Inlet was on a conference call with several people on the other line. I completely bombed that one. It was really hard to read anyone’s responses without being able to see their facial expressions and body language. It was really good practice though because when I had my interview in person in Ahousaht, most of the questions were the same!

Obviously I was successful in my second interview. I received an email the next day asking if I would accept the grade 6 position! I was on a whale watching boat at the time in the Salish Sea where I worked as a photographer. Excitedly I turned and told our group of passengers my good news and elicited a round of cheers and applause. When we docked in Victoria after that trip, one lady passed me a note with books and resources she had found useful in her teaching career! Wow!

Moving day to Ahousaht was a big one. It was sunny, thankfully, but quite foggy when we had arrived in Tofino to load the boat. I had chartered the water taxi  Rocky Pass for myself, my mom, aunt and then-boyfriend. The back deck was loaded and anything not waterproof was inside with us.

I remember my first time cutting through Catface Rocks – Wide eyed I watched in amazement as we flew past the rocky shoals with just feet to spare. No boat I had been on had ever driven like that! I soon came to relax when boats cut through this shortcut and now I can even drive our boat through it myself (However, I do slow down to about 15 knots when I am cutting through there. I have yet to do it at cruising speed of 23 knots).

Getting into Ahousaht, the skipper called a vehicle to meet us at the dock and help bring my stuff up to my teacherage apartment. In true Ahousaht fashion, despite the wedding being prepared for that particular weekend, a friend of the truck driver came down to help us bring everything up from the dock and deliver it to my door. They tried to refuse payment, but I insisted. I would soon learn this is just Ahousaht culture. Help where it is needed.

10584056_10154693500830727_6460516425016833953_nMy favourite memory that night was picking blackberries and my mom making a fresh blackberry pie for our dessert. Or as I now call it – Chumas!

Little did I know how my life would change just a few months down the road when I fell in love with my neighbour up the road long after my then-boyfriend and I had realized that long distance just wasn’t working out for us and gone our separate ways.

New Home. New Beginnings. And so much to learn about life on the coast. Looking back now, I can’t believe how far I have come.

Reconciliation in a Colonial World

If you live in Canada, you have likely heard the word “reconciliation” thrown around a lot in the past few years. Some nod their head in agreement, others scoff with derision. “It wasn’t me”, they say. “Why should I atone for things other people did?” Because that is what reconciliation is. To reconcile, you need to admit there was a problem. That there IS a problem. That our colonial system continues to oppress Indigenous Peoples in Canada and our silence firmly puts us at fault too.

So use your voice! Speak! Become an ally to those who are pushed aside and unjustly let down time and time again.

I grew up in the Cowichan Valley. There is a strong Indigenous presence within the community. I had classmates from the reserve. I got to know youth my age. Youth who were surely victims of inter-generational trauma due to residential schools. I carved and painted alongside them on a totem pole created by my high school with a master carver from Cowichan Nation. I had an appreciation for their culture, and through that, a vague understanding of the historical atrocities they had been subjected to. But I did not know the full extent of what the Canadian Government and the Church was guilty of.

Throughout my teenage years, my family volunteered at monthly community dinners. I remember being very aware of the much higher volume of Indigenous patrons, than any other Ethnicity. “Why?” I asked.

Residential Schools were explained to me in more detail then. The trauma and abuse. The disrespect over the years which had, in a way, broken the pride of these families. Others in the community may have been in just as much need as the ones who did come sit down for a free meal, but pride kept them shuttered in at home. Choosing to be cold and hungry than to ask for help.

This stuck with me for all the years since. How could a Nation’s pride be broken so severely? Why? How?

It was all part of the Canadian Government’s plan to “kill the Indian in the child“. It almost worked. But these Nations are rising again. We can help them. Reconciliation. Admit what happened was wrong. Have Empathy. Build. Strengthen. Grow.

I attended the University of Victoria and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Education in 2014. One of the required programs for teachers at UVic is “Indigenous Education”, taught by an Indigenous community member. We cover Residential Schools, the potlatch bans, modern culture, and even Indigenous Sports and games. It astounded me how few of my classmates knew anything about Residential Schools. Most had no clue. Until VERY recently, this era of Canadian History was not mentioned in Canadian grade schools. Those teachers who did know about it were afraid to broach the subject. How do you teach a subject so large and so sensitive with so few resources?

Currently, as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, all Provinces and Territories include information about Residential Schools in their curriculum, but it is not mandatory, nor is the coverage extensive. We need to continue to push this as a priority across Canada. No one will care about something they don’t even know happened. Our Youth are the Future, but the change must start with us.

When I graduated, I specifically looked for jobs in First Nations schools in remote parts of the coast. I applied in Kingcome Inlet and Ahousaht. Teachers in these remote communities are expected to participate in cultural events. What an honour to even be able to witness such things, after the strong efforts by the Government to smother them out.

I moved to Ahousaht in the summer of 2014. Here I was able to witness and encounter the very raw and real trauma from Residential Schools in modern times. I talked with survivors. People say Residential School is old history. Get over it. Do they realize the survivors walk among us? The last school closed in 1996. That was during my lifetime!

When Lennie and I started dating. He had rules for me. In any other scenario, I would have “Noped” my way right out of there. But I knew there was a deeper reason behind it. I wasn’t allowed to touch him in certain ways. A hand on his shoulder makes him jump at times. The echoes of horror still ring in his head. He has many humorous stories of his time at Christie Residential School – a testament to his ever-present troublemaker personality. But the other stories aren’t shared as easily. They bring me to tears. Every time I hear them, a part of me dies again. MY CULTURE did this to him. So yes, I am responsible. We all are. But our actions today can be our redemption.

I didn’t gain a complete understanding of the scope of the Cultural Genocide Canada committed until I was fully engulfed in the culture of an Indigenous Community. I had to live in Ahousaht and truly know the people to have this perspective. You can’t just stay for a weekend and talk to a few people here and there. You need to sit and listen and get to know the community.

Active listening is something we are all taught in school, but I swear, in this time of smartphones and headphones, we forget how to really listen.

“Active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.”

If you ever get the chance to talk to a Survivor, their family or their offspring, LISTEN. Hear their stories. Hear how they are impacted. Hear how the system is still stacked against them.

To me, Reconciliation is acknowledging the wrongs that were done, and recognizing your place in the greater community that committed these atrocities. Reconciliation is having the empathy and respect to listen to Indigenous Peoples and how they are still affected, today, due to these traumas. Reconciliation is spreading the word, joining movements and supporting initiatives to move Indigenous Peoples forward at a pace and in a direction, THEY want to move.

To become a better ally, follow the steps of Reconciliation above. Learn whose Traditional Territory you live in. Talk with members from the Nation. Visit their Administration Office and ask to learn more – Maybe they have programs you can attend – Language, arts, dance. I am sure they would welcome you with open arms if your heart is in the right place.

Listen with an open heart and open mind. It’s hard to go wrong from there.

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I would like to graciously thank my friend Zan who posed the questions of What reconciliation means to me? and How can Non-Indigenous community members become better Indigenous Allies? I really appreciate the chance to write out my thoughts on the matter.

For those interested in further information, I urge you to check out the following websites:

Beyond 94

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

First Contact (Ahousaht is featured in one of the episodes!)

MacLeans Residential School Article

Indigenous Foundations

We Are The Children

Canada’s Dark Secret

National Post Residential School Article

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

A Celebration of Spring Birdwatching!

Hummingbirds are such a wonderful sign of Spring! In Ahousaht, Anna’s hummingbirds stick around year round. We have had anywhere between 1 and 3 birds at our feeder each day through the colder months. Just this week, the rufous hummingbirds have made an appearance and there are two individuals competing for the feeder. I’ve found that the rufous hummingbirds are flightier and more timid than the Anna’s who have been around all year. Perhaps with time the Rufous’ will get used to me too!

I also had a gorgeous group of purple finches show up at my feeder this week! Rather than a purple colour, they appear as if they have been “dipped in Raspberry juice”. A rather apt description I think! They prefer moving around the middle of trees, closer to the trunk, so it took a lot of patience to get this shot on an exterior branch of the cedar tree while this individual vied for position at the feeder.

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Ahousaht is always a phenomenal place for birdwatching. But I don’t think you would have much success if you only visited for a day. Ahousaht has it’s own pace. Indian time, people joke. The birds have their own time too… I find I have my best sightings when I’m not looking – Usually while I’m having coffee in the living room. My hummingbird feeders are visible through one window and the birdfeeders and large Spruce and Cedar trees out the other window. There’s a small Spruce tree straight out the front door that the hummingbirds like to sit in between their turns at the feeder. And of course, there’s our little Baltimore Oriole that came right up to the porch railing throughout the winter!

My advice for birdwatchers coming to Ahousaht, Stay a while! Enjoy the community and what is has to offer. Get to know the locals. Walk the trail and beaches. Sit for a while on the docks or pick out your favourite driftlog to perch on. The birds will come in their own time.

When Depression Takes Over

 

I don’t like to admit when I am falling into a depressive funk. It makes me feel broken and weak. I feel like it’s my fault as if I actually could have stopped it from taking over.

I avoid it for as long as possible but eventually I have to admit it’s happening. When my fiance begins asking if I am ok because I am so quiet and not my usual bubbly self, I have to give in. Even if I don’t admit it to him right then, I admit it to myself. The tears come easier. My breathing is more laboured. I’m tired and emotional. I want someone to be with me but at the same time, I want to be alone and wallow in my own self pity. I want to get away, yet stay in the comfort of my home. Sleep doesn’t come easily at night, but my eyelids are heavy all day.

Depression eats you from the inside. It’s a shadow no-one can see that follows you like a storm. Your personal cloud of darkness. You can never run fast enough to get away.

I am not on any drugs. I don’t think I am a “bad enough” case to need them. Another denial or the truth? I can’t even step back far enough to tell. Nature helps, when I can get up the energy or determination to even step out the front doors.

As I write this, my vision is clouded by tears. There’s no reason for them. They’re just there.

I was seeing a counsellor who came into our village once a week. She was my age and we connected well. Together we explored cognitive behavioural techniques with some success. I was able to step back and evaluate my depressive thought patterns, allowing me to start correcting them on my own. Unfortunately that counsellor has moved and there isn’t a replacement yet.

At my lowest point, I would be collapsed on my classroom floor at recess, or even in one instance, the computer room floor while my class continued working next door, balling away like a  baby. Whether teaching in my school caused my depression or only exacerbated a previous unknown condition, I will never know. My situation may have been different in a different school or community but I will never know and don’t want to know.

I am happy with where I ended up in the end. My fiance and I have a simple and loving life. Just like me, he struggles to understand my depression and that’s ok, because we’re both learning together.

The Little Oriole that Could

His brilliant yellow plumage caught our eyes immediately as he landed on the hummingbird feeder. This juvenile male Baltimore Oriole was a long way from his winter range in Central America. It took a bit of time to get a confirmed identification on this bird but after 3 opinions all weighed in with Baltimore Oriole, it was settled!

Three days in a row he has visited our porch railing. Soon after he arrived I put out sliced oranges. It took a while for him to transition from the hummingbird nectar to the oranges, but once he did, he wouldn’t stop! This spunky little bird had found his favourite food.

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Watching him feed, you can see the Baltimore Orioles characteristic feeding method – inserting his beak, spreading the fruit and then drinking the juice that flowed into the newly created hole.

When the wind or rain got to be too much for him, he would shelter on the rafters of the porch or in a nearby spruce tree. But it wasn’t long before he would be back on the railing again, eating away! Despite the cold temperatures and less-than-tropical environment, this Oriole seems to be doing ok.

This little variant has gotten a lot of attention in the birding community. This appears to be the 8th confirmed sighting of a Baltimore Oriole in the Vancouver Island region. There has been lots of interest in travelling to Ahousaht to see him, but the long journey seems to have held off the flood of birders. Sitting in my living room, sipping tea or coffee and watching him feed, I can’t understand why. I am so lucky to have had him find me! Soon we will see it he will show for a fourth day – He typically arrives by nine am!

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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!

 

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