An oil spill in Heiltsuk waters
When she heard the calls on the family marine radio that cold October morning, Megan Humchitt knew something was wrong. Having grown up in a community of mariners on B.C.’s central coast, Megan had always associated the crackling VHF radio with danger. Heading downstairs, she discovered that her father, a hereditary chief and Coast Guard member, had left her a note with just two spine-chilling words: “Tanker aground.”
Throwing on a coat and boots, she rallied other community members, launched a boat and headed out to survey the damage.
Nothing could have prepared them for the scene they encountered. Rounding a point into Gale Pass, they saw a huge articulated tug-barge that had run aground, grinding against the reef as waves roiled and oil spilled. Diesel slicked the surface of the churning water. Other Heiltsuk first responders were there, watching helplessly as the tide went out, exposing the stranded vessel to the pounding swells. Finally, after hours of battery, the tugboat – carrying 100,000 litres of engine oil, diesel, and lubricants – sank. Everything, says Megan, “was just chaos.”
“We never want to be in that situation again,” says Megan. “That’s why we’re taking the polluter, Canada and B.C. to court.” With this case, Heiltsuk Nation is taking power back from regulators asleep at the wheel, to enshrine Indigenous stewardship values into law.
The RAVEN community are also responders. Folks have donated, fundraised, and organized in support of the Heiltsuk legal challenge, pouring out support for Indigenous justice since we launched this campaign in 2018. This World Oceans Day alone, we raised $18k.
Donate now, and contributions will be DOUBLED.
The Nation is currently conducting its own, Indigenous-led Environmental Impact Assessment, drawing on Indigenous ecological knowledge and western science to determine the health of the spill area, which has beena marine breadbasket for Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. The Heiltsuk are determined to heal the land and waters — but to do so, they need patient observation and hard data.
In an interview this week, Megan Humchitt took us into the gut-wrenching feeling of helplessness that her Nation experienced in the wake of the Nathan E. Stewart disaster. She also shared the heroic healing work that her community is doing to protect sacred lands and waters so that all life can flourish.
One way to help keep Heiltsuk Nation paddling forward is to make a commitment: that further injustice will not happen on our watch. Please donate.
It’s not fair that Heiltsuk should have to draw from scarce community resources to have their rights recognized in court. Standing with Heiltsuk Nation, today, is one way to put your commitment to righting relationships with Indigenous Nations into tangible action, so that this strong community can continue to chart their own sustainable future.