Ocean Warriors patrol BC as Canada’s only Indigenous Coast Guard

Vancouver Island filmmaker shines spotlight on Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary in ‘Mission Ready’

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

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.

Indigenous and coastal communities have a long history of responding to marine incidents and are often the first and only responders in their surrounding waters, arriving on scene in time to make a difference in remote locations. Photo credit: Ocean Warriors Facebook page

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, 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 based on Penelakut Island near Chemainus on Vancouver Island, came to know about the CNCGA’s early work through a friend who was working for the auxiliary.

The first episode of Ocean Warriors: Mission Ready was released on Jan 9, 2024, on streaming services such as Apple TV. The first episode will premiere on APTN on Jan 14. Video credit: Kwassen Productions Inc.

“I kind of put it in 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. The categories in which he won for his previous series were Best Host, Best Screenwriting, Best Cinematography, and Best Information/Reality Series.

In 2017, Ocean Warriors series producer/director Steve Sxwithul’txw advocated for Victoria to become the site of Canada’s first Indigenous Walk of Fame to honour the contributions of Indigenous people to the film industry. Photo credit: IMDb

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.

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

Steve Sxwithul’txw, First Nation filmmaker.

“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.

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

Steve Sxwithul’txw, First Nation filmmaker.

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.

Each episode of the docuseries will feature a different location, as well as re-creations to give viewers a clear idea of the work that the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary does. Photo credit: Ocean Warriors Facebook page

“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 the 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 coordinator 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.

Story by Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter / Windspeaker.com

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