Letter: A call to set up search and rescue stations in Indigenous communities

A real and vitally important job in every community that should also be paid a decent wage

To the Expositor:

Many years ago, I had an interesting experience working in British Columbia as a volunteer with the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary for a couple of years while looking after my elderly mother. Apart from occasionally being on call for maritime emergencies, I also regularly had the opportunity to upgrade my skills taking various courses. However, I was shocked to discover that since the end of WWII, both the Liberal and Conservative federal governments have been whittling away at the budget for the Canadian Coast Guard and, if not for volunteers, there would be little presence across the country. After returning to my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, I discovered that my Anishinaabe ancestors on my father’s side were not originally from the nearby Garden River First Nation, as I had thought, but actually from M’Chigeeng First Nation. Now that my wife is deceased, my children are grown and happily on their own, I decided to move here to pursue my writing projects. For the past four years or so, I first lived in Providence Bay and more recently moved to Mindemoya. I became shocked to learn that all coast guard stations in Lake Superior have now been shut down and only one Coast Guard Auxiliary station still exists on Lake Huron in Parry Sound.

Occasionally, I have had various rants published about revitalizing the Canadian Coast Guard and the importance of developing search and rescue stations around Manitoulin Island. Our current members of parliament have been supportive, but the various recent ministers of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, (responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard, which no longer warrants its own ministry), and the administrators of the Canadian Coast Guard, at their office for the Central Region in Sarnia, have had no interest in addressing my concerns or suggestions. I was intrigued to recently learn that the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories have had their efforts ignored when they lobbied the government over the past two years to set up various volunteer stations on their territory. It came to me that if the federal government is really interested in following through on its many broken promises with Indigenous people, supporting a decentralized First Nations search and rescue for responding to emergencies on both land and water, in all bands across Canada, would be a brilliant idea. For starters, this work is a real and vitally important job necessary in every community and these good people should be paid a decent wage. It would also require training facilities in every region, as there is a multitude of skills required and regular upgrading, that the government would be wise to support.

Since I moved to Mindemoya, I have followed with interest the community efforts to prevent the Mindemoya Old School stone structure from being demolished. It struck me that this building would be perfectly located for a central Manitoulin Island search and rescue training facility, apart from an assortment of other useful purposes, that most likely would be eligible for funding from various sources. Am sure that, if any of the Island’s First Nations councils became interested in developing their own First Nation search and rescue stations, they would prefer to have their own training facilities on their own territory. Of course, I could not blame them, as confidence in any government or non-native brain storm has never been justified. 

D.S. McPhail