Indigenous

Six Nations businessman sending 3 jets with hurricane relief aid to Bahamas

A prominent First Nations businessman is leading a relief effort to help the hurricane-stricken Bahamas that will see three jets leave Hamilton Wednesday evening loaded with supplies.

Ken Hill co-ordinating Dreamcatcher Foundation effort to send food, water, clothes, flashlights

Ken Hill, right, helps load relief supplies Wednesday onto a plane bound for Nassau, Bahamas. (Ward LaForme Jr)

A prominent First Nations businessman is leading a relief effort to help the hurricane-stricken Bahamas that will see three jets leave Hamilton Wednesday evening loaded with supplies.

Ken Hill, a businessman from Six Nations who has property in the Bahamas, said he was moved to act after hearing accounts from friends on the islands and seeing the devastation from Hurricane Dorian on the television news. 

"We know a lot of people, have a lot of close friends, almost like brothers and sisters," said Hill. 

"They've been through a number of storms, but this one was the worst."

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Dorian, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the northern Bahamas' Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the UN World Food Programme said in a statement. 

The Canadian government has announced it would give up to $500,000 in emergency assistance to support experienced humanitarian organizations.

Ken Hill, second from left, with bottled water being flown to Bahamas as part of a relief effort for islands affected by Hurricane Dorian. (Ward LaForme Jr)

Hill said he just couldn't sit and watch so he made some phone calls. 

He secured two jets, a Dassault Falcon 900 and a Challenger 850, which can carry about 1,133 kg worth of cargo each, donated by Ontario-based corporate charter airline Flightexec for the relief effort. 

A third cargo jet, a Falcon 20, was added to the fleet on Wednesday evening to deal with the large amount of donated supplies.

The jets will carry supplies ranging from canned foods and water to flashlights, clothes and generators, Hill said. 

Hill said he is travelling with the supplies along with a team of volunteers, including carpenters and bricklayers, to help in the reconstruction.

Seminole Tribe supplying helicopters

The jets have already secured landing slots with a corporate terminal in Nassau, according to a senior official with Flightexec. 

There, he said, supplies would be unloaded and put onto two helicopters provided by the Seminole Tribe in Oklahoma and Florida. 

Hill said the helicopters would ferry the supplies to the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama because the waters are still too rough to travel there by boat.

This aerial photo provided by Medic Corps, show the destruction brought by Hurricane Dorian on Man-o-War cay, Bahamas on Tuesday. (Medic Corps via AP)

Hill said one of the jets will remain in Nassau and conduct supply runs from the Florida mainland. 

"Seeing the people, the little kids, the schools, and what they have gone through over the years, it hit home to me," he said. 

"It's like life on the reservation. They are the less fortunate in their own country, like us, Native people. When it comes to those issues, the Montour family, the Hill family has always stepped up to the plate."

Workers load water into one of three jets being sent to the Bahamas as part of a relief effort coordinated by Six Nations businessman Ken Hill. (Nick Erb)

Hill is working through a charity he started with business partner Jerry Montour and others called the Dreamcatcher Foundation to help fund the relief effort. 

Hill and Montour also founded Grand River Enterprises, the cigarette manufacturing behemoth with a global reach based out of Six Nations, a Haudenosaunee community about 30 km southwest of Hamilton.

"Everyone likes to do a lot of talking, but they don't want to step up," said Montour. 

Montour said Hill contacted him about the idea and he quickly agreed to back the plan to send supplies to the Bahamas.

Montour said his biggest concern was ensuring they sent clean water.

"At the end of the day, one of the scariest things is not to have access to clean water," he said.

Grand River Enterprises matching donations

Delby Powless, chair of the Dreamcatcher Foundation, said private fundraising efforts to support the relief have hit about $200,000 so far —matched dollar for dollar by Grand River Enterprises. 

"It tears your heart out," said Powless.

"Think of losing everything."

Powless said the shipments of water are coming from Wahta Natural Springs Water, a company in Wahta Mohawk territory that is owned by Grand River Enterprises. 

He said supplies were also being purchased from places like Costco. 

Volunteers rescue several families from the rising waters of Hurricane Dorian, near the Causarina bridge in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters devastated thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics. (Ramon Espinosa/The Associated Press)

Nick Erb, president of Flightexec, said the final decision to arrange the flights and transport aid to the Bahamas came at about 6 a.m. Wednesday. 

Erb said he and Hill began discussing plans on Tuesday afternoon. 

"At the time it was unclear whether it was too soon," he said. 

"This morning we decided it's a go…. And we had our partners down there doing scouting flights and giving us intelligence on what would be feasible."

Erb said his company does a lot of work in the Caribbean and he's developed a lot of relationships in the region.  

"It really hit home for us," he said.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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