When tragedy stuck our little village yesterday morning, this community showed its resilience and hopefulness. The Van Sun provides a short article on its impact on the community. Historical Notes on the history of the Heiltsuk provide a context for understanding the community response to this tragedy. While the general store, the post office, and the liquor store will be rebuilt and given priority in terms of essential services, the Koeye Cafe which stands for so much in terms of sustaining our place in the Great Bear Rainforest as a distinct cultural group will have a more challenging time as this is their second terrible loss due to fire. While many need assistance in order to rebuild, this non-profit organization exists primarily on donations and profits from the cafe. Please consider making a donation.
The hub of our community was destroyed in a few short hours. The main grocery store, the post office, the community library, and liquor store were all destroyed due to a fire and water damage. Volunteer fire fighters averted a potential huge loss of lives by working hard to get the fire contained in order to avoid explosions of several massive diesel and gasoline tanks adjacent to the building.
To ensure the safety of community members, all the residents along the front road including hospital staff, patients, and long-term residents were quickly evacuated; my 87-year-old dad was among the evacuees. The stress and the haste was exhausting for him, but like all the residents of our community, he showed his resilience.
Two meetings of community leaders were held and plans are in place to address emergent needs and to arrange for temporary locations for a grocery store and the post office initially. Just as the meeting was getting started, food arrived for people who had been at the front lines since 5 am and shortly afterwards, a covered area was set up with food and water for the firefighters who spent most of the day ensuring that there was no possibility of reigniting the fire. The response is typical of this community. 100 men and women, including police and local contractors were out there risking their lives to save the community.
The community response team, a group of service providers went ahead with a community barbecue which provided people with the opportunity to sit together to visit or pick up plates of food to bring home to family members. A core group of people cleaned and prepped the salmon to go on traditional BBQ sticks which were then set around a roaring fire on cedar sticks. Eagles, ravens, and other birds swooped in regularly to scoop the discarded fish heads, fins, and guts. This event helped to uplift community members’ spirits and demonstrated that despite our losses, we can pull together to help one another and to share kind-hearted fun around a delicious plate of one of our traditional ways of preparing salmon.
In the days and months ahead, we will look back and marvel at how we have survived the events of July 12th. We will survive them in the same way that we have survived more calculated events that have impacted our lives over the last hundred plus years. Resilience and a will to take matters into our own hands has sustained us and given the combined community response, this legacy continues…