Newly elected Ditidaht chief and council pledge openness at membership meeting

Nitinaht Lake, BC

Three months after Ditidaht elected a new chief and council, Chief Councillor Brian Tate called his first Governance Meeting at the nation’s community hall. About a dozen members attended, hearing reports from each of the councillors who have been hard at working taking care of their respective portfolios.

Chief Tate says that he is reinstating quarterly membership meetings to allow access to information and encourage input into the business of the nation. The membership meeting was held Nov. 2 at the Malachan community at Nitinaht Lake.

Stronger police presence needed

Invited guest RCMP Acting Corporal Simon Forshaw came from the Lake Cowichan detachment to discuss service to the Ditidaht community. People at the meeting raised concerns that there is not enough police presence at Nitinaht, especially on the weekends. They worry about the dangers of drinking and driving and general lawlessness that happens when people are intoxicated.

Nitinaht is served by the relatively small Lake Cowichan RCMP detachment whose service area is large, covering Lake Cowichan, Youbou, Nitinaht and points in between. There are two members on call most times. It takes approximately two hours to drive to Nitinaht from Lake Cowichan once a call is received.

Over the summer a resident called in a suspected drunk driver. A few hours later the vehicle had an accident and it was later learned that no members were dispatched from Lake Cowichan to respond to the initial call. Chief Tate said there is concern that the initial call was not responded to and the people feel the RCMP didn’t take it seriously enough.

Cpl. Forshaw cited several reasons for the lack of police action. One is distance.

“We have a strict pursuit policy; if we had responded we would have had to chase them from Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni at dangerous speeds and we likely never would have caught up,” he said.

In addition, there are only two resources (on-duty officers) on at any given time and a large distance to cover.

“Even if a member lived here you couldn’t expect them to be on call 24/7,” he said.

Membership wondered if they would be better served by the Port Alberni RCMP detachment, which is bigger but also has a larger service area to cover. Adding to that, the Port Alberni RCMP serve four Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Adding one more may spread the resources too thin.

Former elected chief Robert Joseph says he was working on a service level agreement with the RCMP but didn’t get it done before his term ended.

Chief Tate said his council would carry on the work started by Joseph, meeting with officials at the Lake Cowichan detachment.

“We will work on a service plan, but if that doesn’t work out, we will talk to the Port Alberni RCMP,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Tate noted that people want improved community safety. A member of the Ditidaht Women’s Group said they have initiated a neighborhood watch and have designated safe homes as a start.

Coastal emergency response

Ditidaht Administrator Jeneen Hunt reviewed the Ditidaht Governance Policy manual which was adopted in January 2018. In addition to the reinstatement of quarterly Ditidaht membership meetings, the Ditidaht chief and council meetings are held the first and third week of each month. These are open to members, but people may be asked to leave when confidential matters are discussed.

In his report to membership Chief Tate said that he met with the Canadian Coast Guard who is working on an emergency response plan for all of the Juan de Fuca Strait, and Ditidaht will be involved. The CCG is looking for liaison workers and will subsidize the training costs.

“We need to identify people in the community suitable for training,” said Tate.

Further down the road there will be a trained response team to deal with any incidents on Ditidaht waters.

Councilor Paul Seiber reported on his parks portfolio. He noted that the 2005 emergency services plan for Ditidaht is outdated and is not working for the nation. The plan needs to be updated and the community needs to recruit volunteers to rebuild their human resources.

“We need to identify funding to train people in First Aid and First Responders,” said Sieber.

Administrator Hunt reported that work is in progress to update the community emergency services plan. For now, local response is unstructured with two members responding to emergencies. Seiber said he wants to see the nation develop a plan that will see a schedule with more trained first responders on call.

Ditidaht will also be looking to train people for their volunteer fire department.

Indigenous control over education

Councilor Anne Pettet is responsible for the portfolios covering education, which includes the community school and daycare.

Ditidaht Community School is an independent, nation-run facility. Pettet reported that the school is going through an assessment process in order to update its certification as an independent school. Certification ensures that the children will receive the same quality of education as they would in public schools.

Pettet is working with the DCS principal and others to develop Ditidaht language and culture programs. She will be looking for resources to train early childhood education assistants in the school and hopes to bring adult education upgrading opportunities to the community.

Pettet will take part work that will see Ditidaht Community School achieve Indigenous control over education. This would enable the school to  certify their own teachers. She suggested that Ahousaht and Tseshaht, who also operate their own independent schools, say they are willing to work together with Ditidaht on this process.

Controlling asbestos in homes

Councilor Darryl Tate delivered the housing report, noting that preparations for six new social housing rental units are underway. The lots are being prepared for construction.

Councilor Tate reported that the cost of disposing old sheetrock from home renovations has risen. Drywall can no longer go to the landfill as is, due to asbestos contamination concerns. It must be specially handled before disposal.

“Everything needs to be bagged with special bags then taped, then double-bagged and taped. It is expensive and time consuming,” said Councilor Tate.

Ditidaht First Nation will be looking to the community for people willing to sit on the housing committee.

Before the meeting adjourned elder Christine Edgar thanked Chief Tate for his leadership. She urged him to be strong, and to treat the people how he wants to be treated. She asked that Ditidaht stand together to support their leaders.

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