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‘It’s looking positive’: Ahousaht First Nation still searching for missing man

British Columbia

'It's looking positive': Ahousaht First Nation still searching for missing man

Travis Damon Thomas went missing after being sent to Bartlett Island, off the coast of Tofino, B.C., as part of an Indigenous tradition to help him heal from addiction and other ailments. Thirteen months later, the Ahousaht First Nation is still trying to bring him home.

Travis Damon Thomas went to Bartlett Island 13 months ago on a healing journey

Search party volunteers say they have found a notebook, photographs and animal carcasses stashed around the island. (Alfred Dick-Facebook/The Canadian Press)

Even though he's been missing for more than a year, a First Nations community near Tofino, British Columbia, refuses to give up hope that Travis Damon Thomas is someday coming home.

Thomas, a member of the Ahousaht First Nation, was sent to Bartlett Island in July 2018 as part of an Indigenous tradition to help him heal from addiction and reflect on the life choices he was making. A year after Thomas was listed as a missing person by the RCMP, community members say there is compelling evidence he could still be alive.

The nation launched an intensive three-day search Wednesday with over 100 volunteers combing the island, which is only about 1.5 kilometres long and 700 metres wide.

Curtis Dick, head of the Ahousaht Search and Rescue, told CBC's On The Island in a phone interview the search party found a dwelling with photographs inside and small animal carcasses. They also located a notebook with messages in it written by Thomas to his children.

“It's looking positive,” said Dick. “There are notes that were left where only specific people would know where they are. He has been there 13 months and he has stashes throughout the island.”

Dick said Thomas could survive on the abundant traditional foods found in the area.

An abundance of traditional food on Bartlett Island would make it possible for Thomas to have survived 13 months alone, says search party leader. (Alfred Dick-Facebook/The Canadian Press)

Frank Brown, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation from Bella Bella, B.C., came to the community to help search and support the family.

“The community is rallying around the family to give them comfort and, most importantly, hope,” said Brown. “Those people who are out looking are the ones that carry the hopes of the community and the family.”

Brown said the family's decision to send Thomas away is part of the ancestral law of Indigenous people throughout the region. 

“If somebody didn't contribute and was having challenging personal times, they were given to go out and be alone and reflect,” explained Brown. 

Brown said there are “core teachings” in coastal Indigenous communities about people on healing journeys, like Thomas's, gaining supernatural power that might be “something Westerners won't understand.”

“I believe this man is in a really delicate place between this physical secular world and the spirit world,” explained Brown.

Dick said the RCMP are not participating in this three-day search, but he hopes the evidence the volunteers have found will compel police to return and keep looking. He said search efforts by the community are being supported with financial help from the First Nations Health Authority and the federal government.

RCMP say Thomas was last seen on the island on Aug. 7, 2018. He is described as a 41-year-old Indigenous man, weighing 175 pounds, five feet 11 inches tall, with black hair and brown eyes.

On The Island

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