Step Up for Coast Heroes

The Nathan E. Stewart sank, but Heiltsuk Nation is rising

Heiltsuk Nation is taking Kirby — an oil shipping company — Canada, and British Columbia to court. The case focuses on damages from the  catastrophic Nathan E. Stewart spill that spilled toxic fuels into Heiltsuk's marine harvesting areas.

Heiltsuk Nation suffered a violent disruption to their way of life, their economy, their history and identity, and their spiritual connection to the land. The spill contaminated key shellfish harvesting areas and critical habitat for the Northern Abalone.

 A win for the Heiltsuk could toughen oil spill regulations along the whole Pacific coast and set a precedent for Aboriginal title to the foreshore and seabed. It would strengthen Heiltsuk jurisdiction in the courts so they can manage their territory according to Heiltsuk laws. With its legal challenge, Heiltsuk Nation is taking power from regulators asleep at the wheel and bringing the responsibility to protect their territory and the ocean back home. 


Raven People Rising” is a film chronicling the efforts of Indigenous people to chart a sustainable and just course through the troubled waters of the Great Bear Sea. In this 30-minute film, set in one of the Earth’s last tracts of intact temperate rainforest, meet elders, youth, and tribal leaders who describe a mixed inheritance: on the one hand, the incredible violence of residential schools and cultural erasure, and on the other, an unbroken lineage of ancestral teachings that powerfully connect people to place.

Click here to watch the film. 



Will you stand with Heiltsuk Nation?

At the Heart of the Matter

In October, 2016 a tug without a certified pilot ran aground and spilled over 110,000 liters of diesel oil in Heiltsuk waters on the central coast of British Columbia. The tug and attached barge were carrying diesel through Heiltsuk waters despite Heiltsuk prohibition of oil transport through their marine harvesting areas.

Through inadequate government and corporate response, and despite Heiltsuk responders’ heroic efforts to mitigate the damage, the spill contaminated key shellfish harvesting areas and critical habitat for the Northern abalone. The Heiltsuk suffered a violent disruption to their way of life, their economy, their history and identity, and their spiritual connection to the land. The Heiltsuk had warned the federal government about the risk of oil transport through the stormy passages of the Central Coast. Heiltsuk was one of the Nations that won a landmark case stopping Enbridge Northern Gateway in 2016. Tragically, they are now left dealing with long-term and catastrophic damage to the health of their land, waters, and culture.

A win for Heiltsuk could:

  • Toughen oil spill regulations along the whole Pacific coast
  • Set legal precedents for:
    • Aboriginal title to the foreshore and seabed
    • Aboriginal governance rights that protects the ecosystem and its resources
    • BC and Canada to be required to consult with Indigenous peoples on the environmental impact assessment and remediation following an oil spill
    • Deterrence of oil spills by establishing cultural damages
  • Strengthen Heiltsuk jurisdiction so they can manage their territory according to Heiltsuk laws

RAVEN is calling on people who love the coast to DONATE and  FUNDRAISE ONLINE in your community to raise funds for the Heiltsuk legal challenge. 

“It's about justice for what was lost, but also sending a message: if you're a foreign, multi-billion dollar profit company you do not have the right to put our communities, our livelihoods, our culture, and our ecosystems at risk."

-Ayla Brown, Heilstuk Councillor (Raven People Rising Video)

Heiltsuk Coast Defenders:
A Timeline
  • October 2019


    Gvakva'aus Hailzaqv, or House of the Heiltsuk, took 18 months to build and is constructed entirely of red and yellow cedar from the territory

  • September 2019


    Documentary film produced with RAVEN screens at a red-carpet event at the Vancouver International Film Festival. 

  • November 2018


    Heiltsuk representatives are hosted by Washington State environmental organizers; leaders lobby legislators at the State Capitol to demand tougher regulations on articulated tug barges - like the Nathan E. Stewart - that originate in the U.S. but transit Heiltsuk waters. 

  • October 2018


    Heiltsuk legal team conducted significant research into Canadian case law and international case law. All of this research informed the legal action taken by Heiltsuk on October 13, 2018, on the second anniversary of the spill.

  • 2016-2017


    Heiltsuk conducted their own independent inquiry into the incident which was followed by two reports from Canadian and US authorities, and a legal analysis of the incident according to Gwi’las, Heiltsuk law. 

  • October 2016


    The tug spilled over 110,000 litres of diesel oil at the mouth of Gale Creek and into the waters, adjacent to an ancient Heiltsuk village site and Heiltsuk marine harvesting area.


When Canada won’t step up, Heiltsuk moves across the pond to the UN.

On Mar 20, 2024 Heiltsuk leadership were in London, England speaking to the International Maritime  Organization (IMO). The IMO is the United Nations agency responsible for international laws about shipping  and the prevention of pollution…

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The present-day Heiltsuk are the main descendants of Hailhzaqvla-speaking peoples who had inhabited an area of approximately 15,500 km2 in the central coastal region of British Columbia for at least 14,000 years. Heiltsuk Nation members trace their ancestry to five tribal groups, each defined by its position relative to the waters of Heiltsuk territory. Heiltsuk traditional territory is within the Great Bear Rainforest, located at the heart of where land and sea meet. 

The Heiltsuk govern themselves by Ǧviḷ̓ás, the laws of their ancestors which govern the relationships between the Heiltsuk and the natural and spiritual worlds. Ǧviḷ̓ás is rooted in a value system that ensures sustainability and respect. Inherent in this is the understanding that all things are connected and that unity is important to maintain. Ǧviḷ̓ás requires that the Heiltsuk manage and protect their land, their waters and all living beings within Heiltsuk territory.

Learn more about Heiltsuk history.

“The only thing that was ‘world class’ about the response was the supreme effort of the Heiltsuk responders who were on the water before daybreak the day of the spill, and continue to be the only regular monitors of the spill site.”

-— ​Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett

nov 5 flights 9 am to noon-11


The Story of a Spill

On October 13, 2016,  the articulated tug barge Nathan E. Stewart ran aground in Seaforth Channel in Heiltsuk territory. The tug spilled over 110,000 litres of diesel oil at the mouth of Gale Creek and into the waters, adjacent to an ancient village site and Heiltsuk marine harvesting area.

The Heiltsuk were first responders in the early morning hours of October 13. Kirby and government bodies largely failed or refused to share information and documentation throughout the entire response. Through the day, as other responders flailed in confusion, the Heiltsuk - with their deep maritime knowledge -  heroically worked to reduce harm to their land and waters.

NathanEStewart.Oct23.HeiltsukNation.photo.AprilBencze.36 copy

Food Insecurity

The diesel spill contaminated an ecologically intact area. For Heiltsuk, the disaster brought about a catastrophic loss that will take decades if not generations to heal.

Heiltsuk peoples harvested at least 25 food species from the affected area, including commercial harvests of manila clams, red sea urchin, sea cucumber, salmon, and herring spawn on kelp.

Heiltsuk Nation conducted their own Environmental Impact Assessment, including a Western science component, a traditional knowledge component, and a health impact assessment.

watch videos


Environmental Justice Now

Building on their impact assessment work, the Heiltsuk are preparing a civil case to recover damages for loss of Aboriginal rights to Food, Social, and Ceremonial harvesting as well as the loss of their commercial harvesting of marine resources.

The case will also raise the constitutionality of Canada’s oil spill liability regime, and the state of Canada’s “world class” oil-spill response system.