Picture this: a group of Indigenous drummers form a circle around a bust of George Washington. As their song and drumbeats reverberate through the marbled dome of the state legislature, lobbyists and officials stand in tight clusters outside the chambers where bills are being debated, talking intently. Zoom in to Frank and Kathy Brown, their regalia adorned with abalone buttons, moving from official to official to share the grim tale of a tug-and-barge crash that spilled 125,000 litres of diesel on their beaches.
“When governments and corporations fail, it’s Nations like the Heiltsuk that are left to pick up the pieces.We’re asking the leadership of this government to do the right thing. To make systemic change through this legislative process. ” — Frank Brown, Heiltsuk Nation
Frank and Kathy are drawing on wisdom that goes back tens of thousands of years, spelling out risks posed by increasing marine fossil fuel transit — a deadly trade whose devastating impacts their community knows all too well. The legislators they are meeting with have the power to place tighter restrictions on ATB traffic, but it’s all abstract until Frank explains the impacts the disaster had on his family members and on the marine environment which they have stewarded since time out of mind. When called to attention by a passionate first person account, accompanied by the ringing of tribal drums, busy officials begin to slow down and listen up.
Monday, February 13: Lobby Day in Washington, when the citizenry at large swarms the Hill to speak with their elected representatives on issues they care about – literally speaking truth to power. Note the adorable Orca puppets.
Fred Felleman, Seattle Port Commissioner and consultant with Friends of the Earth whose report (with FOE’s Marcie Keever) documents the dangers of tar sands crude shipments between Canada and WA refineries, which he describes as a “recipe for disaster”.
The Browns were invited by Sierra Club Seattle and Friends of the Earth to attend the Salish Sea Lobby Day, organized by Students for the Salish Sea. In addition to meeting with nearly 20 WA legislators to inform the Senate and House deliberations on a new bill that would mandate stiffer regulations on oil transport in the Salish Sea by articulated tug-barge (the same type of vessel as Nathan E. Stewart), they spoke to rooms full of activists who are working for a safe climate and healthy communities.
Also known as “ghost tankers” the ATB tug-barges under discussion today were never intended for use in the stormy open sea conditions found in the Great Bear Sea. Because they don’t require escort tugs and have a smaller crew, they cost less and are regulated more loosely than tankers. Yet their cargo is just as deadly: last November, the ATB Jake Shearer broke apart in high seas and narrowly avoided spilling 3 million litres of diesel into the Heiltsuk’s breadbasket.
RAVEN is working to raise funds for a Heiltsuk legal challenge that would compensate the Nation for losses and expenses from the 2016 spill, and help Canada move toward tighter marine oil transport regulations and spill response protocols to prevent further disasters.
“My hope is that people will listen. That they’ll hear, really hear our experience and make the right decisions. This whole apparatus of government is very young. The coastal indigenous communities have existed for thousands of years. We’ve learned a thing or two. It’s time to listen to local indigenous people who have local ecological knowledge, that could help to move forward in a more sustainable way not just for us, but for everybody. That’s my hope. That we’ll be able to really create change, not just for now, but for our future generations.”
As one of the key Nations whose legal challenges put a stop to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Heiltsuk have done us all a great service by protecting the coast for future generations. Now, as they work to rebuild and restore their traditional fishing grounds, they are once again leading the way by demanding tighter controls so their community can survive and thrive.
It was an honour for RAVEN to spend two days on the road with Frank and Kathy, and witness their detailed and nuanced knowledge of the issues, as well as the 10,000-year-old wisdom of the land and ancestors that speaks through them. The schedule — where they spoke with dozens of legislators, and gave presentations in two cities — was gruelling. Yet you wouldn’t be able to tell from their manner: even after many hours of speaking to officials and making presentations, Frank and Kathy welcomed each and every person they met.
Much gratitude and appreciation is also due to Fred Felleman from Friends of the Earth, Stephanie Hillman and Victoria Leistman from the Sierra Club, Urban Indigenous North-West, Students for the Salish Sea and many others who made this trip possible. Frank and Cathy were warmly appreciated and returned home knowing that their message has been delivered into good hands.
Will you join the Heiltsuk campaign to protect the Great Bear Sea from ghost tanker calamity?
RAVEN wishes to thank Glasswaters Foundation for their assistance with trip expenses.