Award-winning Indigenous producer and director Steve Sxwithhul’txw was in Ahousaht during the first week of May shooting a new documentary focussing on the life-saving work of four Vancouver Island First Nations as Canadian Coast Guard auxiliaries.
According to IMDb, Sxwithhul’txw (Swee-thult) is a former police officer and member of the Penelakut First Nation. He went back to school to study broadcast journalism and launched Kwassen Productions. He told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he also has roots in Snuneymuxw and Cowichan Nations.
Sxwithhul’txw is pleased to announce the start of his latest project, Ocean Warriors ~ Mission Ready, a new documentary TV series on APTN and CHEK. It follows four First Nations on the B.C. coast that have joined together to form the independent Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Sxwithhul’txw said he first heard of the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary through a friend, Conrad Cowan, who helped develop the program.
“There are amazing people here that put their lives on the line to rescue people,” said Sxwithhul’txw, adding that they don’t want anything, they don’t ask for anything and they don’t want to be called heroes.
But the work they’ve done together, saving people’s lives on the rugged west coast, can only be described as heroic.
“These are highly trained Indigenous men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for any emergency in their territory along B.C.’s rugged coastline,” reads a press release.
Ahousaht elected Chief Greg Louie says the production crew arrived in Ahousaht during the first week of May and have been interviewing people who have been involved in search and rescue operations conducted by the community over the years. Most notable was Ahousaht’s response to the Leviathan II, a whale watching boat that sank in October 2015, where 25 people were rescued and two perished.
“They (film makers) heard of the Ahousaht response to distress calls and how we pull together in an emergency, whether it be boats, airplanes or missing hikers,” said Louie.
While in Ahousaht the film crew shot a mock rescue for the documentary, but it wasn’t long before they got to witness a real-life emergency response. People went out in boats, on quads and on foot to search for a resident in distress on one of the remote beaches of Flores Island. That situation ended well, with the person located and brought home safely.
Louie says Ahousaht people are very humble, never bragging about the efforts they put into rescues.
“We just pull together to help in any way we can,” he added.
According to Louie the film crew spent a day taking photos and film clips of imagery around the village, then interviewed people. A day will be spent interviewing children and filming them as they prepare for their annual school potlatch.
Sxwithhul’txw says his documentary is not only about the search and rescue efforts from First Nations communities, but also the way of life. That is why his crew took the time to film the children working on cultural activities at school and in the village parks.
Louie notes that while some are shy when it comes to filmed interviews, he said many are happy that people are taking notice of the success stories.
“From these incidents, we’ve had meetings with government and have signed an MOU with the Canadian Coast Guard,” said Louie.
From these discussions came improved cellular service in the village and Ahousaht’s own dedicated search and rescue boat.
“Having this chance to showcase the work of these volunteer SAR rescuers is something as a producer I am very excited to highlight to our viewers,” said Sxwithul’txw. “The beauty of these territories and communities cannot be measured. We are so grateful for this opportunity.”
He thanks Ahousaht for their gracious welcome.
“It’s been amazing,” he said of his visit to the village.
Ocean Warriors ~ Mission Ready is a 13-episode series involving the Ahousaht, Quatsino, ‘Namgis, and Heiltsuk First Nations and their work as Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary. Sxwithul’txw promised to take the viewer deep into the four First Nation communities where men and women train and prepare for the time they will be called upon to respond to a “PAN-PAN” emergency call for help.
“Ocean Warriors is a series about hope and heroism, tragedy and heartbreak,” said the producers in a media statement. “The training and deep community connections will help ensure the success behind the men and women of the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary.”
Ocean Warriors is produced with the support of the Canada Media Fund, APTN, CHEK Media, and Rogers Media. The first of the 13 half-hour series is expected to be released in late 2022 or early 2023.