Environmental Disaster Unfolding as Diesel Spill Devastates Clam Beds, Community in Great Bear Rainforest

Heiltsuk Nation declares response of industry, federal and provincial governments wholly inadequate

For immediate release
October 17, 2016
The fallout from last week’s sinking of the Kirby Corporation’s Nathan E. Stewart continues to unfold. Only 6,554 gallons of the 59,924 gallons of diesel onboard the tug were able to be pumped from the vessel before it sank in Heiltsuk Territory on the morning of October 13th. Since then, the sunken vessel has been leaking diesel into an area of enormous ecological, economic, and cultural significance to the Heiltsuk Nation.

The response effort has been impacted by slow response time, a lack of boats, appropriate equipment, and personnel, and failed containment efforts by industry and the federal and provincial governments. Spilled diesel has already fully blanketed the most important clam beds in Heiltsuk Territory. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has been forced to declare an emergency chemical contaminant closure of shellfish fisheries for 11 sub-­‐areas around the spill site. This closure area covers the vast majority of Heiltsuk manila clam harvesting grounds, leaving only two sites unaffected.

Hot tapping of the tug, the first step towards removing the remaining fuel from the sunken vessel, is anticipated to begin today and may take several days to complete. Until then, the fuel spill will continue to worsen.

“The Heiltsuk are heartbroken and angry over this environmental disaster. We don’t know how many years or decades it will be before we are able to harvest in these waters again,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “Yet our community members are heroic. The overwhelming majority of vessels out on the water are Heiltsuk volunteer crews. Our community members are doing their best to assist with response efforts, but have not been receiving adequate direction or training from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in charge of the clean up.”

“Recent press seems to suggest that containment efforts have been successful. Let me set the record straight: containment has not been successful, and clean-­‐up efforts have barely begun,” stated Heiltsuk On-­‐Scene Commander William Housty. “The damage has been done, and the best we can work towards is mitigation.”

Heiltsuk have sought to interview the Kirby Corporation’s crew members involved in the incident, but neither Kirby nor Transport Canada has provided access to the crew members. Heiltsuk have requested that Kirby provide its incident information, but none has been provided.

DFO has been noticeably absent from the scene. “Where are the nation-­‐to-­‐nation relationships we have been promised? It is evident that Indigenous communities bear not only the risks of tanker traffic like this, but apparently also the responsibility for clean-­‐up. This is unacceptable,” stated Slett.

The Heiltsuk Nation has launched an investigation of the incident. Please donate here to support thefinancial costs borne by the Heiltsuk Nation for the clean-­‐up and inquiry:

New images and footage available for download and use at:

For more information:

Marilyn Slett
Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Tribal Council 250-­‐957-­‐7721




Vancouver, BC (October 14, 2016) – Coastal First Nations renews its call today for a ban on crude oil tanker traffic and says First Nations must be at the table to determine what went wrong in Thursday’s diesel spill near the Heiltsuk First Nation of Bella Bella, BC.

“Our worst fears have materialized. It’s time for Canada to move forward on its promise to ban crude oil tankers on the BC coast,” says Coastal First Nations Chair Kelly Russ. “To prevent another tragic event like this, the Heiltsuk First Nation must be a full partner in the inquiry to come into what went wrong, not just presenting evidence. This must include First Nations involvement in any future decision-making about ship traffic transiting territorial waters.”

Russ says yesterday’s sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart tug in a sensitive clam harvesting area is a grim reminder of the threats oil spills pose to First Nations communities, cultural practices, economies and ecosystems.

“Looking to a future inquiry, we expect Transport Minister Marc Garneau to invite the full participation of the Heiltsuk and act on his mandate letter from the Prime Minister to honour “a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership,”” says Russ.

The diesel spill occurred less than three weeks after Prince William’s visit to Bella Bella to endorse the Great Bear Rainforest for the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. CFN-GBI, along with other partners, was also recently awarded the EarthCare award from Sierra Club (USA) for its efforts to protect it.

“Coastal First Nations members have worked hard to protect the Great Bear Rainforest,” says Russ. “Now it’s time for the Crown to do its part by dealing with this incident and the management of future tanker traffic on a nation-to-nation basis on the North Coast.”

The Coastal First Nations are an alliance of First Nations that includes the Wuikinuxv Nation, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation who work together to create a sustainable economy on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii.



Kelly Harvey Russ

Board Chair

Tel.: 604. 696.9889

Cell: 604. 828. 4621

Website: www.coastalfirstnations.org


Great Bear Rainforest

As preparations gear up for the Royal visit to Bella Bella on Monday, the Heiltsuk Nation are proud to share our amazing Traditional Territory with the world.

This is the first in a series of videos showcasing coastal First Nations communities and our work to protect our land and sea.


Heiltsuk, commercial fishermen work together
to overcome challenges with DFO
For Immediate Release
March 27, 2016

Following decades of tension, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) appeared to be turning over a new leaf when they signed the final component of the 2016 Heiltsuk-DFO Herring
Joint Management Plan with the Heiltsuk Nation earlier this week.

“In drafting this plan, the DFO staff has proven they can work successfully with us as we strive to protect our lands, waters, and resources,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “The transparency and collaboration this has brought to the coast is unprecedented, but it has not come easily.”

The plan sees DFO acquiescing to a number of Heiltsuk priorities – including prohibiting a night fishery, no setting on schools smaller than 1,000 tons, and more – but every step of the way proved to be a struggle. At the centre of the debate was whether or not the herring stocks had returned in sufficient quantities to handle a harvest this year. “The management plan we signed, the goodwill between our groups, and what we thought was a shared conservation agenda led us to believe that closing the fishery was always a possibility if there were concerns about the number of fish that actually showed up,” said Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department Director Kelly Brown. “This week when we raised those concerns, industry proved to be more willing to consider closing the fishery than DFO.”

Friday, after meetings with DFO reached an impasse, the Heiltsuk Nation worked with the commercial fishermen late into the night to reach a compromise. When the commercial
fleet agreed to verify sufficient quantities of fish were in the area before dropping their nets, and the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation gave their blessing, the Heiltsuk informed DFO that they would approve an opening of a partial seine fishery. On Saturday, commercial fishermen were permitted to catch up to 107 tons of herring from East Higgins, half of their total allotment. After soundings showed sufficient biomass in the area, Heiltsuk and Kitasoo/Xai’Xais authorized the fishery to remain open for the remainder of the 215 ton quota.

Joshua Duncan, skipper of the Western King, was present at the meeting on Friday. As a commercial fisherman who has grown tired of DFO opening fisheries where there are no fish to catch, and as a member of the Wei Wai Kum Nation whose herring fishery has been virtually extinguished, he understands what is at stake and welcomes the jointmanagement between DFO and the Heiltsuk.

“This is the beginning of change in an industry overall,” he said after emerging from negotiations on Friday. “The Heiltsuk people have listened to their hereditary chiefs’ direction to protect and improve their habitat and stocks that fostered their livelihood and way of life. I look forward to continuing to work as a native fisherman and commercial fisherman on relationships with the Heiltsuk First Nation and other First Nations in B.C. for long term sustainability.”

“This has not been an easy process, but we are committed to making sure DFO fulfills its mandate to achieve joint management and to exercise the precautionary principle,” said Brown. “We’ve learned a lot from this last year of negotiations. It’s been trying at times, but we are still confident these joint management agreements can and should be expanded to fisheries up and down the coast.”

With the commercial seine fishery complete, all eyes are on the herring roe spawn on kelp (SOK) and traditional priority fisheries and whether or not they will be able to attain their quotas.

Marilyn Slett
Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Tribal Council


Final Agreement Reached to Protect B.C.’s Great Bear Rain Forest


The 20-year battle to protect the Great Bear Rainforest – the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet – is over, with the B.C. government announcement on Monday of an agreement with environmentalists, forest companies and First Nations.

The deal, which will be enshrined in legislation this spring, applies to a stretch of 6.4 million hectares of the coast from the north of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle. It promises to protect 85 per cent of the region’s old-growth forests, with logging in the remaining 15 per cent subject to the most stringent commercial logging standards in North America.

“I’m pleased to announce we have reached this landmark agreement,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark told a news conference in Vancouver. “We celebrate what hard work, tenacity and strength of purpose can achieve when we work together.”

Representatives for the four partners gathered for a ceremony in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella on Friday to mark the completion of an accord that reaches far beyond the original objectives of protecting ancient forests and the home of the unique white-furred black bear known as the Spirit Bear.

The final agreement also recognizes aboriginal rights to shared decision-making and improves economic opportunities for the 26 First Nations that reside in the region with a greater share of timber rights and $15-million from the province.

In Bella Bella’s school gymnasium, hereditary chiefs wearing their regalia of button blankets and ermine-trimmed headdresses danced and a chorus of children sang to welcome Premier Clark and the chief architects of the deal.

“This is a singular place – a gift – for us to preserve and this is the biggest statement we’ve ever made about our commitment to that,” Ms. Clark said in an interview after a short hike through the forest to the edge of an estuary. “To me, it’s an expression of our collective love of this land and this coast.”

Read the rest of this story HERE