People await an Ocean Blessing Ceremony on the beach in Ahousaht on Aug. 23. (Denise Titian photos)
It has been a long, tragic summer on the waters of Clayoquot Sound following the loss of five men in three separate incidents. Hundreds of volunteers have spent endless hours searching the ocean and beaches while others prepared meals and coordinated gatherings related to the searches.
On June 15, three Tla-o-qui-aht men were lost when their boat capsized near Tofino. Two brothers, Marcel Martin and Carl Michael along with their relative, Terrance Brown Jr. went missing after the accident while two other men from another part of the country survived.
On Jul. 18 a kayaker discovered the remains of Marcel Martin near Echachist Island, not far from where the boat capsized.
Then, on Jul. 22, further up the coast near Ahousaht, Richard Amos, 24, went missing after leaving Ahousaht in a canoe to go fishing. The canoe and some personal effects were found shortly afterward but Amos has not been found.
On Aug. 7 Travis Thomas, 40, of Ahousaht, was last seen at his Bartlett Island campsite. He was reported missing two days later and, after three weeks, family and friends continue to search the island after several reports of possible sightings of Thomas on the island.
It is because of these incidents that leadership at Ahousaht felt the need to do something, so they organized an ocean blessing ceremony. They issued an open invitation for anyone to join in the ceremony that promised to honour the ocean.
“We are feeding the ocean, honouring with cedar and lighted candles,” said Julia Atleo in a social media post. She went to say that they would be honouring those that have perished at sea by feeding them with their favorite food.
The NTC’s Teechuktl CHS Training Coordinator Stan Matthew said that Ahousaht’s Holistic Centre invited several cultural support people to the community to prepare for and carry out the Ocean Blessing Ceremony.
About a dozen people with experience in cultural healing arrived in Ahousaht days before the event to plan for the ceremony and to assist with daily prayers leading up to Aug. 23.
Matthews said there were two components to the ceremony. One delegation prayed on the water aboard a boat and another took place simultaneously, on Ahousaht’s front beach.
“We all have something to offer; the more people taking part in the ceremony, the more powerful it will be,” Trevor Little, Tseshaht, told the people on the beach.
It was decided that young people would be included in the ceremony because, according to Matthew, they would bring power with their innocence and wholesomeness.
At least 100 people stood on the beach as three men chanted prayers. About 18 boats with passengers from Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht communties also carried people that were chanting prayers.
An empty white canoe was released on the water as the boats circled it, continuously chanting.
On the beach there was a collective gasp as a seal pup broke through the surf and waddled ashore.
“Our prayers are working,” whispered an elder. A curious dog scared the seal pup back into the ocean.
During the ceremony offerings of food and cedar wreaths were made to the water as women stood on the shoreline, palms raised in prayer. The men chanted and some prayed out loud.
When it was over, the white canoe, now carrying passengers, was guided ashore. A woman was carried from the canoe and seated on a chair on the beach; the same was done for a man that was aboard the canoe. They included Lydia Michael, the mother of two of the Tla-o-qui-aht men lost in June; Marcel Martin and Carl Michael. Next to her was Gary Rawcliffe, father of missing Richard Amos.
People lined up to offer comfort and hugs to the grieving parents.
The solemn ceremony was followed by a dinner at the Thunderbird Hall. Ahousaht leadership honoured the memory of those lost at sea by blanketing surviving family members.