B.C.'s Indigenous Coast Guard auxiliary gets big financial boost

·2 min read

Two B.C. First Nations are sharing a half-million dollars in federal funding to boost the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary’s response capacity for maritime emergencies.

Under the Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program, the Nisga’a Nation in Northwest B.C. and Ahousaht Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island will receive $312, 815 and $214,156 respectively to purchase response vessels and related equipment. The vessels, which meet the rigorous standards of the Coast Guard and Transport Canada, will be used to improve the safety of all mariners in the vicinity.

“This program has provided funding to develop a training plan to lay the foundation and strive [toward] sustainable prosperity and self reliance for the long term, with a purpose to protect both mariners and citizens traveling throughout the northwest coast of B.C.,” Anthony Moore, the emergency response services manager for the Nisga’a Lisims Government said.

Both the Nisga’a and Ahousaht Nations are among five members of the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CN-CGA), Canada’s first Indigenous-led auxiliary outfit.

Moore said the pandemic has slowed the Nisga’a Nation’s procurement of its vessel, but the importance of its arrival and the activation of the CN-CGA unit is underscored by the full scope of past emergencies in the area, including engine failures, vessels in distress, capsizing, fishing vessel accidents, maritime accidents due to drugs and alcohol, injuries due to unseaworthiness of vessels and medical distress of crew.

“To be able to have a dedicated purpose-built vessel ready to respond to any marine emergency has allowed us to build our capacity and capabilities as a member of the CN-CGA,” Moore said.

The three-year boat-funding program, launched in 2017, is part of the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, aimed at strengthening marine safety systems, promoting responsible shipping, protecting Canada’s marine environment and offering new opportunities for Indigenous and coastal communities. The plan is billed as the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways.

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan, said it’s important to include First Nations in that plan with the pilot program.

“Indigenous coastal communities have been stewards of the environment including oceans and shores for generations, and are unquestionably vital to Canada’s marine safety system today. The program provides necessary funding and equipment to support their efforts.”

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a national non-profit organization of 4,000 volunteer members with access to 1,100 vessels that boost the Government of Canada’s maritime search and rescue response capacity. The Canadian Coast Guard funds the auxiliary through a contribution program totaling $7.7 million each year.

The auxiliary responds to approximately 25 per cent of maritime calls for assistance each year.

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Quinn Bender, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View