Documentary series to feature work of Canada’s only Indigenous coast guard

Thursday, January 4th, 2024 3:02pm


Image Caption

The work of the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary is the subject of a new documentary series on APTN starting this month. Photo by Kwassen Productions


“The series sends a powerful message to communities up and down the coast that we can and will protect the people within our territories.” — Stephen Keitlah, zone co-ordinator, Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

First Nation filmmaker Steve Sxwithul’txw has known about the work of the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CNCGA) for several years.

But it is only now that his latest project, titled Ocean Warriors: Mission Ready, will be seen by the public.

Ocean Warriors: Mission Ready is a 13-part documentary series that features the ocean search and rescue work of the CNCGA. It’s the country’s only Indigenous coast guard, incorporated in 2018 after receiving federal funding. Its purpose is to provide maritime search and rescue missions in coastal areas of British Columbia.

The auxiliary also promotes water safety and conducts coastal safety patrols while supporting the Canadian Coast Guard.

The CNCGA’s current membership includes eight First Nations—Ahousaht, Heiltsuk, Gitxaala, Nisga’a, Kitasoo, Quatsino, Kyuquot/Cheklesahht and ‘Namgis.

Ocean Warriors: Mission Ready will be shown on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Episodes will be in both English and the Kwak’wala language, which is spoken by the Kwakwakaʼwakw people around Queen Charlotte Strait in western Canada.

The first Kwak’wala episode will be broadcast on Jan. 9. And the first English episode is scheduled for broadcast on Jan. 14.

Sxwithul’txw, a member of the Penelakut Tribe, whose community island is located off Vancouver Island, came to know about the CNCGA’s early work through a friend who was working for the auxiliary.

“I kind of put it my back pocket,” said Sxwithul’txw, adding he was involved with other initiatives at the time and too busy to film any sort of project involving the CNCGA.

Ocean Warriors: Mission Ready is the third documentary series produced by Sxwithul’txw on APTN. His two other series were titled Tribal Police Files and Warrior Games.

Tribal Police Files, which ran for three seasons and wrapped up in 2021, featured the work of Indigenous police forces. And in his first series, Warriors Games, which lasted for one season, Sxwithul’txw travelled to various Indigenous communities where he met youth who provided details on different traditional and contemporary sports.

Sxwithul’txw ended up receiving four Leo Awards for his work on these two series. The Leo Awards is the British Columbia-based program recognizing the province’s best in the film and television industry. Categories in which he won for his previous series were Best Host, Best Screenwriting, Best Cinematography and Best Information/Reality Series.

After finishing up work on the Tribal Police Files series, Sxwithul’txw started planning his next project. And that’s when he shifted his focus to Ocean Warriors.

“It seemed like the right time for us,” said Sxwithul’txw, who produced and directed the series.

Each episode is 30-minutes long. Sxwithul’txw said he doesn’t have a favourite episode.

“I’m pretty proud of all of them,” he said. “I think they all tell different stories.”

Each episode features a recreation of an actual search and rescue mission conducted by members of the CNCGA.

Episodes were shot in four of the First Nations that are members of the CNCGA. Shooting locations were in the Ahousaht, Quatsino, Heiltsuk and ’Namgis Nations.

“These are very isolated communities,” Sxwithul’txw said. “There is nobody better to respond to situations than the local residents.”

Harvey Humchitt, the hereditary chief of Heiltsuk Nation, believes creating the TV series was important.

“Sharing these stories is a significant step in recognizing First Nations people and the role they play in responding to marine incidents,” he said.

Stephen Keitlah, a CNCGA zone co-ordinator who works out of Ahousaht, echoed this sentiment.

“The series sends a powerful message to communities up and down the coast that we can and will protect the people within our territories,” he said.

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