The Nathan E. Stewart sank, but the Heiltsuk are rising
Heiltsuk Nation is taking an oil shipping company, Canada and British Columbia to court over a catastrophic diesel spill in their territory from the Nathan E. Stewart, a tug-barge that had carried oil through Heiltsuk waters despite Heiltsuk prohibition of oil transport through their marine harvesting areas.
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 spill contaminated key shellfish harvesting areas and critical habitat for the Northern Abalone.
The Heiltsuk are taking the polluter, Kirby Corporation, and the federal and provincial governments to court. 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.
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 the Heitsuk 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
“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)
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
DOCUMENTARY SCREENS AT VIFF
Documentary film produced with RAVEN screens at a red-carpet event at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
LOBBYING ACTION : ONE COAST
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.
HEILTSUK FILE CIVIL CLAIM
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.
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.
NATHAN E STEWART DISASTER
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.
On April 2, 2022 a group of runners took to the trail at Elk Lake to raise funds and awareness for Indigenous sovereignty and marine life conservation.
Spring is normally the time when mariners from Heiltsuk Nation head out on the water to harvest the precious herring spawn on kelp, known as SOK. Says Megan Humchitt, writing about the fishery for RAVEN…
RAVEN and WECAN (West Coast Climate Action Network) presented another great webinar in our Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Action series looking at community solutions. Speakers include Pansy Wright-Simms and Leona Humchitt.
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.