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Canada’s 1st Indigenous coast guard auxiliary has launched in B.C.

First Nations along B.C.’s West Coast have a long history of responding to emergencies in the Pacific.

Now, more than four years since it was announced, the Indigenous Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary has fully launched in B.C. — already having completed a number of missions.

The auxiliary consists of 50 volunteer members from five first nations along B.C.’s coast — the Ahousat, the Heiltsuk, the Gitxaala, the Nisgaa and the Kitasoo.

Tuesday evening, the auxiliary was dispatched to a call in Bella Bella, where someone was in the water. The mission was a success.

“Luckily, the person was found safe and sound,” said Conrad Cowan, the executive director of the auxiliary.

“Here we are, right into the fray already.”

Cowan says the auxiliary will now work in tandem with the Canadian Coast Guard, responding to remote areas that would take the Coast Guard a long time to attend.

As well, he says the Indigenous mariners who have now joined the auxiliary have a wealth of knowledge of their territorial waters.

coastal nations coast guard
The Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary performs a night rescue along B.C.’s West Coast. (Photo by Andrew Szeto)

Cowan admits, even with his extensive background as a Search and Rescue technician with the military, sometimes his skills don’t compare, especially when it comes to navigating the waters and whirlpools along the coast.

“They are extremely accomplished,” he said, speaking with All Points West host Kathryn Marlow. “They’ve been doing this for a very long time. They know the waters.”

And as the man in charge, Cowan has no complaints.

“It really does make my job easy, doesn’t it? I just have to keep the lights on and get the equipment to them.”

The volunteer members have also been provided with proper training, equipment and certification for their community boats. He says brand new Search and Rescue boats are also being built thanks to government grants.

And, fortunately for those travelling up and down the coast, Conrad believes this is only the beginning for the auxiliary, which he hopes to one day expand to other First Nations.

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