Qaamina and Ruth Sam are demanding that vodka be banned from the village, following disturbing incidents of pre-teens being found extremely intoxicated and the death of a young family member due to alcohol-related liver damage.
Two days before she died in 2020, Helen Frank, a young mother, called her aunt Ruth, asking them to keep working hard to ban “red cap” from the village. Not knowing what she meant, Ruth later learned that red cap meant a popular brand of vodka that comes in a bottle with a red lid.
It was in October 2020 when Helen told her aunt, “I should have stopped when you told me to. I’m dying, now.”
Helen died two days later, leaving a warning that vodka is a silent killer, and she wanted her family to continue to fight to have it banned from the village.
The Sams have been vocal with their feelings about bootleggers and vodka, holding three marches in the village and helping as cultural supports at programs people go to for assistance withdrawing from alcohol. But it all came to a head when they came home to find their 12-year-old grandchild had been drinking vodka.
The couple has fostered eight children. Their eldest granddaughter has aged out of foster care so now they have seven children in their care.
“They always say teachings start at home, and we sit down at the table with our grandchildren and talk to them, but we never told them to buy booze,” said Qaamina.
When they go out that door they become the children of the community, and when they go to school, they are the school’s children, he added.
He said it’s been an emotional time for himself and his wife knowing that their grandchild has access to vodka.
“It sparked our anger, knowing it’s gotten into our home,” said Qaamina.
The couple has learned that the children, 12- and 13-year-olds, pool their money to buy bootleg vodka.
“Five or six of them get together,” said Ruth, adding that they combine their money and buy several bottles. “It makes us not want to give them money anymore.”
Ahousaht’s acting Tyee Ha’wilth Hasheukumiss (Richard George) has said that he receives dozens of messages about bootlegging in Ahousaht. He recently told Ha-Shilth-Sa that someone sent him a video clip of a 12-year-old with a bottle of vodka. It is believed that the bottle was bought from a bootlegger in Ahousaht. Hasheukumiss said the child is seen taking about a six-second-long guzzle of straight vodka without flinching.
Ruth said that a 12-year-old child was recently found passed out in front of the band office.
“It’s still so cold outside, it’s so dangerous,” she added.
Qaamina said that one bootlegger was heard saying it doesn’t matter how young they are, money is money.
“They’re delivering bottles right to them, damaging their lives before it gets started,” he said.
The Sams have led three awareness marches in Ahousaht over the past few years and each time, more and more people join. They say that they get dozens of messages of support and are planning another awareness march very soon.
“We gotta do something. We know who the bootleggers are, and we look to the authorities and are surprised to hear there’s nothing they can do – they say (bootleggers) can buy vodka in Tofino and sell it here,” he claimed.
“We need to get a ban on vodka here, it’s a silent killer,” said Qaamina.
He suggested Ha’wiih need to push for change if they want their muschim to be strong and healthy.
“Same with chief and council, they need to stand up with the hereditary chiefs and put their differences aside for the sake of the people,” said Qaamina.
Both Ahousaht council and the Maaqtusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society have announced plans to build healing and recovery centres in Ahousaht territories.