Chief Councilor John O. Frank said his nation went through a scary time during the holiday season. Over the past few weeks there has been a small, but serious wave of suicide attempts.
“After the holidays stress levels are high. People are missing family and the bills need to be paid, but our holistic team is working hard to nip this in the bud,” Frank reported.
He is confident the worst is over.
After the holidays community members got back down to business. In early January, a few people gathered for a community meeting to hear news about the school and education issues. Frank said very few showed up but the outcome was still good.
“It went really well. There were a lot of good questions and ideas,” he said.
The new high school is ahead of schedule and on budget. It will open in time for the next school year. Plans are underway for upgrades at the elementary school.
Ahousaht staff, council and ha’wiih are also working hard to prepare for their financial disengagement from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Effective April 1, Ahousaht will begin their own Comprehensive Funding Arrangement with Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) and will contract directly with the tribal council for the services they will continue to use.
“It’s an exciting time. Independence is so important for any nation,” said Chief Frank, adding it won’t come without some hiccups.
“It’s a big challenge, but we’re ready for it; but we’re human, we breathe, so we will make some mistakes along the way, but we’ll learn from that,” he pointed out.
Ahousaht’s push to get members on the road to higher education is paying off. According to Chief Frank, university graduates are coming back home.
“We’re utilizing them,” he said, adding the band needs a bigger, better administration building and that is something that is being worked on.
Ahousaht leadership is also preparing to find assistance for future home owners at their new subdivision. “There will be 60 new units and we are working on helping young families with down payments so they can buy their own home,” he announced. He went on to say the days of families getting free homes from INAC are gone; it’s just not going to happen.
“It’s all about getting our people on the road to independence,” he said.
Members will need jobs in order to make those house payments. Leadership continues to work on economic development projects that will complement the main income generator, the salmon farms. Last year a mini sawmill opened, providing more jobs for band members.
“We have to look at all avenues for economic development,” said Chief Frank. One avenue is natural resource extraction.
According to Frank, Ahousaht, as co-owner of Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd., will likely allow the company to harvest within its Tree Farm License on Flores Island. The village of Ahousaht is located on Flores Island.
Environmental groups have raised concern over Iisaak’s plan to harvest old growth on Flores Island, saying to do so, would go against the 1999 Memorandum of Understanding many of the groups signed with Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Toquaht and Ucluelet.
Chief Frank promises that any logging in Ahousaht territory will be done in a good way. Old growth trees, he pointed out, die sooner or later and Mother Nature always replenishes. “This is not going to be an eyesore,” said Chief Frank adding any logging on Flores will be done in a sensible and sustainable manner.
Frank added that First Nations were logging long before the white man arrived, “We’re not the ones that stripped the mountains naked, we don’t want to exploit the resource to extinction,” he said.
Environmental groups have banded together forming a group called the Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance. They have been meeting with some Clayoquot Sound First Nations to discuss logging plans in the first nations’ traditional territories and to discuss economic development alternatives.
Local first nations have argued that economic development support and assistance from the environmental organizations to first nations was promised in the 1999 MOU, but they’ve seen little if any economic development support from conservation groups in the past decade.
“We want the environmentalists to step into our shoes for a year,” said Chief Frank. He said Tofino is a hub for tourism dollars. “People pay top dollar to stay there, eat there and then pay them to come to our territories to look at the beauty and we don’t get any benefits from that,” he said.
“If ten years ago the tour operators contributed say a dollar or $10 to us for every trip they made to our territory maybe we wouldn’t have to log,” he pointed out.
“Ahousaht doesn’t benefit from Tofino tourism but they expect us not to touch our own resources so they can benefit,” he added.
Chief Frank invites people to come in and chat with him if they have any questions.
“The doors are always open if people want to ask questions about what we’re doing,” he said.