At times it was difficult to hear the hereditary chiefs bless the new 8-plex building in song as they competed with the sound of construction trucks and the buzz of activity for the up-and-coming subdivision across the way, writes Stefania Seccia in the ttttWesterly News.

After arriving by boat to the remote community on Flores Island and walking on newly upgraded roads once riddled with pot holes, the construction continues on a new secondary school building, subdivision and 4-plex. Also, the on-site sawmill had opened the day before.

Unemployment is also down due to links to fish farming and mining — either already continuing on or just getting started.

“We’ve gone down to virtually zero unemployment,” Lance Adair, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) director of capital, said. “You can hear the buzzing and see the smiles, everything.”

Flores Island, a 45-minute boat ride from Tofino harbour, has a population of about 1,400 (approaching 2,000) Ahousaht First Nations (AFN) living in about 170 households.

Many community members gathered in front of the 8-plex building to watch the unveiling celebration with the children’s dance group performing, speeches and a hereditary chiefs’ blessing ceremony. All but one of the two-bedroom apartments are already occupied.

The 8-plex was designed by Lubor Trubka, who was among the affiliates attending the ceremony, along with representatives from the NTC and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

“I’ve done close to 50 projects for First Nations during the last 35 years,” Trubka told the Westerly. “We’ve been heavily involved in First Nation projects throughout B.C.”

Trubka’s architectural firm developed the NTC administrative building, the Tseshaht long house in Port Alberni and others as far as Fort Nelson and Bella Coola.

The idea of the 8-plex came up one year ago and it was put on the fast track for completion.

After receiving approximately 58 applications, those selected for placement moved in on September 1.

The building has eight two-bedroom apartments at 1,000 square feet each, plus balconies and patios.

“We need a dozen more,” John Frank, chief band councillor, said. “Our people are really happy about it.”

He said eight new apartments are a good start, but it’s been challenging with a growing population and little building going on.

“We need a lot of homes we need to catch up on,” he added.

Adair, who plays an advisory role to the council, said the 8-plex completion is only the beginning of the changes coming to fruition.

The community is also working on new sewers, roads, drainage and mould remediation.

“It comes down to three things to make this work, one is money and the other is building appropriately for weather and the community and it’s important the driver is from the First Nations and not the government,” Adair said. “And that’s what Ahousaht’s been doing.”

He said a lot of the households are up for mould remediation, which has been a long-time problem plaguing residents, and most should be torn down, but can’t be because people are living in them and there’s nowhere else to place them on the island.

The budget for the 8-plex is about $5.2 million and much of the budget covering three of the projects in Ahousaht trickled in from the Canadian Economic Action Plan.

The subdivision across the way from the 8-plex building will feature 60 lots, but it’s in its first of four phases.

“It took 19 years for that to come to fruition,” Adair said.

Another housing initiative up next for completion is the 4-plex for school teachers to occupy.

The sawmill, which officially opened September 15, is employing five people within the community.

“Three years ago the chiefs asked to get the sawmill going in Ahousaht,” AFN member Harvey Robinson explained.

The sawmill processes local wood from Flores Island that was in storage and trees that were cut to make room for the subdivision. The wood is utilized for siding and is a mix of old-growth cedar, hemlock and pine.

In the future, Robinson said the community, while working with Iisaak Forest Resources, would start to cut down lumber for more development and eventually market it to other communities.

Ecotrust Canada is a partner in the sawmill.

“We’ll be providing lumber for all the local houses, business structures and try to catch up with that,” he said. “Then we’ll look at providing our neighbours with wood, whatever they need.”

As the work is almost finished on the 8-plex, since it requires further landscaping and the last resident to move in, construction on the secondary school can be seen as boats pull in to the harbour.

The high school, which has not been named yet, will be a two-story building either starting at Grade 8 or 9 and going up to Grade 12.

Currently, elementary school students and secondary school students co-exist in the same building, which was built almost 20 years ago.

“We broke ground last September 22,” Greg Louie, project leader and former school principal, said. “There’s been overcrowding for a number of years.”

He said with a new building, the students will be able to literally see the move to the next level from elementary.

“I’d like to comment on how much excitement it has brought to the community,” Louie said. “You hear people in the community forums and one of the things they bring up is the construction of the school.”