Taking the bus to school is a character-building experience for any kid.
But what if your daily “bus” to class went over some of the most stunning, but often roughest, waters on the west coast?
This unique trek is just another morning commute for the kids of Alert Bay.
Their commute is stewarded by one woman whose goal is to make their morning trip something they look forward to.
For 20 years, Danni Tribe has been making sure all these kids get to school safe and sound.
“The kids are the excitement and the fun,” Tribe says. “I see them 45 minutes a day, twice a day, for five years. It’s important for me that it’s a happy, safe place for them on that boat,” she told West Coast Now.
And the changes she has witnessed are monumental.
“That’s been the joy of the job, to watch them blossom and grow up. Now I’ve got kids of the first kids I took to school –- but no grandkids, yet!”
When she first started the job, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
When she began ferrying, the generational traumas inflicted through residential schools and colonialism were very evident in the students she was carrying.
Refereeing fights and halting vandalism were just parts of her job description.
But, she says the work done by the Namgis and other First Nations in the community has been transformational.
Through their efforts, she’s slowly watched healing happen in her passengers.
“Now they’re happy, laughing, healthy, delightful kids who laugh and tease me, sometimes in their own language,” she said.
While the more motherly aspects of her job may have gotten simpler over time, the waters she sails through have remained just as unpredictable.
“I make every call,” she said. “That’s what the captain does. It’s all about training. My job is all about rules and regs, tides, and currents. There’s lots of detail work, inspections, science, and math.”
At least three times daily, she does detailed weather analysis, and while her goal is always to have these kids in school, sometimes she has to call off a sailing.
When the weather is too much for the “Spirit of Yalis” to handle, she notifies everyone through a quick Facebook post.
Even if they’ve already left the dock, she’s always ready to turn around if conditions change.
“[The kids] are so cool, so into it, doing the life jacket drills and everything else we ask them to.”
“They’re good little mariners,” she adds.
Tribe adores her job, but as she gets closer to retirement, she worries about the future – and finding someone else to fill the position with vetted sea legs.
“I fear we’ve lost the culture of shipping and maritime life, and I don’t see it coming back,” she said.
Before moving into her current position, Tribe worked various maritime jobs.
From salmon fishing to working for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, representing Canada on the Pacific Salmon Commission, working with the Coast Guard, meteorology training, and even dabbling in whale watching tours!
She’d truly earned her sea legs before taking on the job of stewarding children to school.
But as industries like fishing and tow-boating decline, getting the real sea time that new mariners need to hone their skills is getting harder and harder.
Whatever the future brings, the kids she ferries inspire her daily to stay hopeful for change.
And a better tomorrow.