The Nathan E. Stewart sank. But the Heiltsuk Nation is rising.

On the second anniversary of the sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart, Heiltsuk chiefs filed a Notice of Civil Claim in the BC Supreme Court! The Heiltsuk are suing Kirby Corporation, B.C., and Canada over a catastrophic oil spill in Heiltsuk marine waters on October 13, 2016. The Nathan E. Stewart, a tug-barge combo, ran aground when the watchman fell asleep. The tug portion sank, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuel and other pollutants into Gale Pass, an important Heiltsuk food harvesting and cultural site.

Please read the Adjudication Report created by the Heiltsuk Nation outlining the conclusions of the Heilstuk Daduqvla Committee regarding the NES spill:

The lawsuit seeks damages for losses incurred by the Heiltsuk, including the loss of traditional harvest and associated cultural losses. It also raises novel legal questions that have never before been brought before the courts – such as whether Aboriginal title applies to the seabed and foreshore, and how to quantify cultural losses. 


The case will also expose the way the American-owned tug operated in Canadian waters in contravention of Canadian law, including the presence of one person on watch when two are required. It will raise questions about the national and provincial oil spill response framework, and Canada and B.C.’s duty to consult communities affected by spills.


We’re hard at work on a new film about this legal challenge. Want to host a screening in your community? Contact


“Since time immemorial, we have followed Ǧviḷás, Heiltsuk traditional law. It tells us to balance the health of the water and land with the needs of our people and to ensure there will always be plentiful resources. Today, Gale Pass is in jeopardy because of Canada, British Columbia, and Kirby’s actions. Our law has been violated and the legal action we are taking in the B.C. Supreme Court today is our bid to hold them accountable.” – Frank Brown, hereditary chief 

In a profound ceremony at the Bill Reid Gallery, Heiltsuk councillors and Hemas — hereditary leaders — were united in their commitment to heal their community. This lawsuit is one step in a long and painful process that began that fateful October night in 2016.  

The struggle to recover from the disaster has jumpstarted the efforts of the coastal Heiltsuk people to chart a different, sustainable and just course through troubled waters. The Heiltsuk are creating space for traditional laws to flourish and for people to practice ecosystem management that is rooted in 700 generations of knowledge.

The Nathan E. Stewart sank, but the Heiltsuk are rising.


Please support the Heiltsuk legal challenge. DONATE today and please share this campaign with your network. 


Take Action