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Family of Marcia Thomas hopes her death will remind people to stay safe at home

Marcia Thomas was on a good path this year. She was almost three years sober and was making amends with her family after years of struggles. She was living beside her brother, staying safe and healthy, and finally starting to smile more.

Then one night in late September she made a mistake in judgement that she would pay for with her life. Marcia decided to go visit some old friends who were not in her COVID bubble. She thought it was safe because they were her friends and none of them had the virus. Within a few days she was in hospital, and shortly after on life support. Marcia lost her battle with COVID-19 on November 25, and her family wants to share her story in hope that it will save lives.

“I just keep expecting her to come to the window next door to say good morning,” explains Marcia’s brother Jackson Dennis. “It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”

Jackson said losing his sister to COVID-19 has been hard on the whole family. Not only did it happen very fast, but they were not given an opportunity to say goodbye. Like so many fatal COVID cases once Marcia was hospitalized family could no longer visit her. Now that she has passed, they cannot have a service or gather to support each other because of the restrictions that are in place. Jackson said that makes it even worse.

“It’s the natural next step to say goodbye,” he explained. “This virus has taken that from us.”

Jackson said his sister was careful when it came to COVID restrictions, but she did let her guard down. She decided to go over to the apartment building where she used to live to visit old friends. She had been stopped drinking for almost three years, but that night she decided to go have a few drinks with her friends. The building where they lived did not have any COVID restrictions in place. People were free to come and go as they liked, and visitors were not restricted or asked to wear a mask.

Jackson blames a lack of protocol at the building for his sister’s exposure. He said more needs to be done to keep people safe. He also admits that everyone must be responsible for their own actions as well. He said the province is locking things down for a reason, and it’s time people started listening.

“It’s not in our power to change or bend the rules,” Jackson said. “We all have to do our part. This is serious.”

Even though none of Marcia’s friends from that night had COVID symptoms, they still passed the virus on to her. Marcia’s daughter Linnea Bowes said part of what makes this virus challenging is that you sometimes do not see it coming.

“My mum worked hard to stay safe, but here we are, mourning a huge loss,” she said. Linnea said for years she and her mother have struggled with their relationship. Alcohol got in the way and for much of her life Linnea had to protect herself by distancing from her mother. It was only in the last little bit that they managed to repair that relationship. Unfortunately, COVID has taken any hope she had of letting her mother get to know her children.

Linnea said her mother had underlying health issues that meant she was not strong enough to fight the virus. She said for that reason once she contracted the disease everything happened fast.

“We couldn’t visit her and could only do video chatting for a little while,” she said. “The last time we talked to her she was in the ICU, and then she was gone.”

Jackson said if he could give people one piece of advice it would be to not take chances.

“Nothing is worth the risk you are taking if you don’t follow the recommendations,” he said. “My sister just wanted to go see her friends, but it just wasn’t worth it.”

He wants people to see what his family is going through and learn from their loss. He wants people to stay home, only socialize with people in their own household, and wear a mask.

“This virus isn’t a joke, and we have to take it seriously,” he said.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations has had several citizens contract the disease. Fortunately, the Nation has lost only one person to COVID, but Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. said that is one too many.

“We need our citizens to take this seriously,” he said. “My family has lost someone due to this virus, and I don’t want another family to suffer the same loss.”

He asks people to follow the restrictions. He also said it is especially important that people stay home and follow the non-essential travel ban. He said at this time visitors are not welcome in Anacla. With the holidays just around the corner, he admits this will be difficult. He wants citizens to stay in their own community and only have contact with the people in their household.

“We hear a lot about what we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in order to make a difference, everyone has to do their part,” he said. “Our Nation has lost one too many people to this virus. I pray we don’t lose anymore.”

British Columbia currently has the following restrictions in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • No social gatherings at your residence beyond your household
  • No social gatherings of any size in public places
  • Your core bubble should consist of only the people in your household. If you live alone, you must keep your bubble to one or two people
  • Masks are mandatory in all public spaces
  • No adult indoor or outdoor sports permitted, youth sports must follow restrictions in place, including no travel
  • All non-essential travel is to be avoided – essential travel includes regular travel for work within your region and travel for things like medical appointments
  • People should also clean your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and keep a safe distance from others

Tommy Happynook Jr. reconnecting with traditions

Tommy Happynook Jr.

Letter from Tommy Happynook Jr.

Good day,

My name is hii-ni-nah-sim, Tommy Happynook Jr. I come from the House of Caa-caa-tsii-as. I am an anthropology doctoral student at the University of Victoria. I am writing today to share some information about my doctoral research, tentatively titled: “Waatlasheeutlin uuaathluk Caa-caa-tsii-as” – Picking up my responsibilities: a project of (re)connecting with traditional lands, waters, knowledge and identity.

The last time anyone in my family lived in Caa-caa-tsii-as was about 1860. My family, like many others, were swept up and aside in the widespread and systemic colonial project of assimilation. In 1970, Caa-caa-tsii-as, known by then as Carnation Creek, was the subject of an experiment conducted, in partnership, by the Federal government, forest industry and Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (DFO). The experiment saw the complete clearcutting of one third of the watershed. The second third was cleared of underbrush and the last third left as is. This experiment was formed with the intent of understanding what would happen if a watershed was completely clear-cut. The experiment became a long-term and influential study of the effects of logging practices on watershed processes and continues today.

The objective of my research is to document my own (re)connection to the lands, waters, and resources in Caa-caa-tsii-as. I will conduct this research by focusing on my own experience of reconnecting, revitalizing, and restoring my family’s knowledge, presence, and traditional responsibilities in and to Caa-caa-tsii-as. Specifically, I will be reintroducing family practices and ceremonies during my time in Caa-caa-tsii-as. I will also be walking/swimming on the land, river, and bay as a way of refamiliarizing myself with Caa-caa-tsii-as.

My research is important because it will ensure that my son grows up connected to Caa-caa-tsii-as, its knowledge and teachings, and understand where those teachings come from through the experience of having a deep land-based connection to Caa-caa-tsii-as.

I believe that my work will benefit Huu-ay-aht citizens and other Indigenous people/nations looking to develop processes and understandings of territorial revitalization/reconnection and inspire reconnection with traditional territories outside of a colonial context.

Thank you for your time and should you have any questions please contact me. I am happy to discuss my research further. And, if COVID-19 restrictions ease, maybe I will see you when I am out in the territory.

Hii-ni-nah-sim, Tommy Happynook

Citizens to receive COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people around the world, Huu-ay-aht First Nations wants to ensure its citizens are supported through the second wave.

Huu-ay-aht is offering a second round of COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment in the amount of $500 to each citizen. The intention of this funding is to help citizens and their families through the hardships that COVID-19 has created. This funding will replace the regular dividend that is given at Christmas time.

For full details on the payment, see the announcement: COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment

Huu-ay-aht and Bamfield Marine Science Centre break ground for new Waste Water Treatment Plant

(Left to right) Huu-ay-aht Executive Council Members, Robert J. Dennis Sr., Charlie Clappis, Duane Nookemis, BMSC Manager of Operations, Chuck Spoon,
McElhanney Project Engineer Nathan Slater, Industra President/CEO/Owner Scot Brudon, Industra Owner Rob Brydon stand on the site of the new WWTP  

On October 6, 2020 for a ground breaking cermoney.

On October 6, 2020, Huu-ay-aht First Nations (Huu-ay-aht), Bamfield Marine Science Centre (BMSC), McElhanney, and Industra representatives, gathered for a ground breaking ceremony on the BMSC site of where the new Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) is going to be built.

The project began in 2010 when Huu-ay-aht conducted feasibility studies that identified multiple options on where the project would be constructed. BMSC was also looking at options to replace their sewage system. As a result, BMSC and Huu-ay-aht agreed to partner up and build the facility on BMSC lands.

On April 26, 2018, Huu-ay-aht and BMSC signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to build the new WWTP. The total project budget is $8 million, with Indigenous Services Canada committing to $3.6 million. After seeking assistance from different levels of government and having no success funding the remaining investment, Huu-ay-aht decided this project was important enough to invest the final $4.4 million needed to complete the project.

“With this upgrade, Upper Anacla residents and Huu-ay-aht operations are able to do away with septic fields and our businesses in Bamfield will also benefit,” said Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis. “By partnering with Bamfield Marine Science Centre we are better able to balance residential development and economic drivers, paving the way to joint development and a healthier community.”

Worked into the agreement is a construction advisory board to oversee the construction of the project. The four members who sit on the board are Huu-ay-aht staff Stephen Rayner and Torrance Gilmour, and BMSC members Lee Weber and Chuck Spooner.

The project design and construction are being managed by McElhanney and Huu-ay-aht staff Torrance Gilmour.

Although building the facility in Anacla was an option, Huu-ay-aht decided it should be located on a site that would benefit both parties – connecting BMSC, the Bamfield Community School, and Upper Anacla to the system.

“Huu-ay-aht First Nations and BMSC have worked closely together on the collaborative development of this modern wastewater treatment system,” said Sean Rogers, Director of BMSC. “In addition to providing BMSC with a means to manage our wastewater safely, the project supports the vision of promoting the health and economic development of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations while also promoting the environmental health and stewardship of the local marine environment. It is an exciting project, and we are so pleased to see it underway”.

The design of the new plant is a Moving Bed Biological Reactor that will allow 400 to 1,100 people. Using this type of system also allows for expansion beyond 1,100.

The system is a newer sewage treatment process that uses a screen plant, high surface area media in a series of aerobic reactor tanks, solid separation, and UV disinfection. Solids from the screen plant and concentrated sludge will periodically be trucked to Port Alberni for disposal.

The plant is also equipped with an odour abatement system. The resulting effluent from this type of system is extremely clean. To ensure the design parameters are met, there is a first discharge testing program, as well as a two-year outflow monitoring program.

The 150 m outflow from BMSC’s existing plant will be extended by 350m to service the new plant. This will effectively get the clean effluent discharged out into Trevor’s Channel rather than the mouth of Bamfield Inlet.

All noticeable infrastructure will be contained within the planned fenced off plant area on BMSC land. Construction is estimated to take 15 months and be completed by end of 2021.

Nation welcomes back six Huu-ay-aht Children

September 30 marked a day Huu-ay-aht celebrates the coming home of six Huu-ay-aht children. After hard work and dedication of everyone involved, the children are now in the care of their Huu-ay-aht family.

Huu-ay-aht staff and executive council members, representatives of the ministry, and families, gathered on Zoom to welcome the children back into the care of their family and acknowledge everyone’s work along the way to make it happen.

This event was an opportunity to mark the success achieved through the Social Services Project. It highlights the importance of the work the Child and Family Wellness Team is doing to bring Huu-ay-aht children home.

“It was a wonderful day – seeing the results of our social services project at work,” said Executive Council member Edward R. Johnson. “The team from the Child and Family Wellness Office is doing a wonderful job in achieving our goals, where our Huu-ay-aht children will grow up safe, healthy, and connected to our home and culture/values guided by our traditions and our nananiiqsu.”

In 2017, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations Social Service Project was brought to life. Within this project, lay 30 recommendations that Huu-ay-aht will implement to keep families safe, healthy, and connected to their nation, while also bringing children home.

This project has been active for three years and in that time, Huu-ay-aht has implemented 28 of those recommendations (almost 29 – Oomiiqsu Mother Centre in the process). In that time, 28 Huu-ay-aht children have been brought home.

Grandparents, Wayne and Ida Seitcher welcome home Meredith, Gordan, Rose and Marley. Mother Christyl Smith welcomes home daughters Aurora and Alexya.

“Congratulations to these two families who persevered and worked hard at getting the children back into their care” said Chris Pearson, Huu-ay-aht Protection Support Worker. “They are the reason we do the work that we do, I am humbled and honoured to have been a part of their journey, and I wish them all the very best for the future.”

Christine Pearson and Kerry-Ann Collinge worked closely with the families and ministry workers and thanked everyone for their hard work and attending the welcoming home ceremony.

Kerry-Ann said “What we are witnessing here today is healing for these children, families, and community”.

To contact Child and Family Wellness please phone 778-419-1013 or email Director of Child and Family Wellness, Shannon Zimmerman at Shannon.z@huuayaht.org. You can also find more information about the department at www.huuayaht.org.

For after-hour protection support, please contact 250-731-6999. Call this number only if you have received a call from Child Protection Services (i.e. MCFD/Usma or other delegated agencies). Anything not related to this matter will be followed up during office hours.