Heiltsuk Nation Relieved To See the End of Enbridge Northern Gateway


Bella Bella (November 29, 2016) – The Heiltsuk Nation says the announcement to put an end to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is a relief after spending the last six weeks attempting to clean up a diesel fuel spill in their homelands.

Chief Marilyn Slett says these past weeks have taken a huge toll on the community. The irony of the end of this project in the wake of the Nathan E. Stewart disaster is not lost. The fact the diesel spill in our traditional food harvesting grounds could have been so much worse if the barge had been full, let alone a supertanker carrying crude oil, haunts the Heiltsuk Nation.

“We are very pleased the federal government decided to not go forward with this untenable proposal. From the beginning, the mere idea of supertankers carrying crude oil in Heiltsuk waters was horrifying. Today, we celebrate that this project is no longer a prospect. However, we know our way of life will remain at risk until the Prime Minister follows through on his election promise of a crude oil tanker ban that would protect our coast for all future generations.”

Slett says the Heiltsuk have an ancient history of interdependence with their homelands and waterways. “Our culture and economy are dependent on a healthy ecosystem. We count this announcement has a clear win for all coastal communities.”

For more information contact:

Ayla Brown
Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator




November 10, 2016


(Bella Bella, BC)   Heiltsuk is disappointed to learn that the federal government is withholding analytical data arising from early environmental sampling after the Texas-owned Nathan E. Stewart tug and barge ran aground in the Nation’s territorial waters.

These samples, collected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and handed over to the Department of Environment and Climate Change, may contain information critical to Heiltsuk decision-making around human and environmental health.

“In the very beginning, we made the decision to collaborate,” said Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “We’ve supported the Incident Command System approach to response, and acted with integrity in the expectation that everyone else at the table would do the same.

“DFO and ECC have clearly missed the message on federal reconciliation.”

Since the tug ran aground on October 13, releasing an unconfirmed amount of diesel into key Heiltsuk cultural and food-gathering sites, the Nation has struggled to fully assess the impacts – cultural and ecological – to its people.

For Heiltsuk Incident Commander Jess Housty, this refusal to collaborate marks a conspicuous betrayal of shared values agreed to by Unified Command. “This hoarding of critical information is preposterous in a situation where every other party has agreed to work together on sampling and analysis.”

“DFO and ECC are potentially putting human and environmental health at risk, and certainly jeopardizing the trust that has enabled Unified Command to collaborate smoothly on incident response.”

Repeated Heiltsuk requests for data access have been ignored and community leadership is frustrated by federal roadblocks preventing governance based on the best available information.

“It’s 2016,” says Chief Slett. “We shouldn’t have to fight these battles just to get access to information about disasters on our doorstep.”


Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Nation
(t) 250-957-7721
(e) mslett@heiltsuknation.ca

Jess Housty, Incident Commander, Heiltsuk Nation
(t) 250-957-8175
(e) jhousty@heiltsuknation.ca



Heiltsuk Breaking News Bulletin

Heiltsuk Breaking News Bulletin

Nathan E. Stewart Diesel Spill

Bella Bella – November 6, 2016

  • On the same day that Transport Minister Marc Garneau visited Bella Bella to share details of his government’s new marine safety and transportation plan, the Heiltsuk have learned that a tug towing a barge loaded with gravel and sand has lost its load in Graham Reach around 7pm Sunday evening.
  • The vessels in question are the Columbia Layne (formerly the Suiattle), a 37 metre tug and a bulk transport barge, owned by Channel Construction Incorporated of Juneau, Alaska. It is unknown at this time the full size of the load it was carrying. They were en route from Seattle, Washington to Juneau, Alaska.
  • After encountering bad weather, including large swells, the barge flipped and lost its load into the channel, north of Bella Bella and the neighbouring community of Klemtu. The tug is currently afloat as of 9pm PST, the barge has sunk. A Coast Guard vessel is en route. The four crew members aboard the Columbia Jayne are safe.
  • Jess Housty, Elected Councillor and Heiltsuk member of the Unified Command managing the Nathan E. Stewart diesel spill response, was alarmed to hear about the incident. “Two incidents in four weeks is too many for these coastal waters. The Coast Guard and other marine rescue services are already stretched thin. A Coast Guard vessel currently responding to the Nathan E. Stewart spill had to be deployed to deal with this second incident, and at this time we don’t know if it will be able to return tomorrow. It is clear that Minister Garneau and Prime Minister Trudeau’s promised regulatory changes can’t come soon enough.”
  • The Heiltsuk Nation stands in solidarity with the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais as they face this incident and reiterate again our demand for increased protections for waters along the entire central coast.
  • Tomorrow the Prime Minister and Transport Minister will announce changes impacting marine safety and transportation on the B.C. Coast. This may include the promised northwest coast tanker moratorium, though Minister Garneau and his staff said to expect that announcement ‘by the end of the year’ instead.

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Photo and Video Resources:

For more information, and interview requests, please contact:

Ayla Brown
Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator

Heather Libby

Heiltsuk encouraged after meeting with Federal Ministers


Heiltsuk encouraged after meeting with Federal Ministers

Bella Bella, B.C. (October 30, 2016) – October 30, 2016 (Bella Bella) – On Sunday, October 30 the Heiltsuk Nation welcomed Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc, Federal and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, to Bella Bella to see the impacts of the Nathan E. Stewart diesel spill, and meet with elected and hereditary leadership and community members. After meeting with the Ministers, Heiltsuk leadership is hopeful that the two governments can start to work together. “For us, immediately addressing this disaster is vital,” said Chief Marilyn Slett. “However, we are also focused on the long-term future of the Heiltsuk. The economic, cultural and environmental well-being of our community is our highest priority.”

Heiltsuk leadership presented the following issues as key priorities for the federal government to address:

Ensuring community members—particularly subsistence fishers who would normally have access to these harvesting grounds—are taken care of through economic diversification.

  • Long-term monitoring and assessment of impacts on Gale Creek, along with a whole ecosystem assessment.
  • Spill Preparedness that protects unceded Heiltsuk land and waters from future disasters, and includes more capacity, equipment and training located on Heiltsuk land.
  • An immediate tanker ban ensuring that oil tankers carrying crude from the Alberta Tar sands is not allowed to transit our lands and waters. The Heiltsuk reaffirm their sacred and solemn duty to our ancestors to pass on our territories and our cultures to the following generations in good order.

Historically, the Heiltsuk and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans maintain a frosty relationship. Last year, the Heiltsuk were forced to stage a multi-day occupation of the DFO office in Shearwater after government officials refused to close the commercial herring fishery, despite record low stocks. “We continue to be concerned about the dwindling and vulnerable herring population in our waters, particularly now that we know there are juveniles swimming around the dirty sunken tug, in waters containing toxic diesel,” said Kelly Brown, Director of Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD). “We hope that Ministers, after seeing the impacts of this spill for themselves, will work more closely with us than they have before to provide the support we need to monitor the impacts of this spill, aid in recovery and help us ensure that our aquatic life will still be there for future generations.”

Chief Marilyn Slett echoed Brown’s statements. “We are hopeful that after today, the tables will turn.”

Eighteen days after the Nathan E. Stewart tug ran aground in Heiltsuk waters, the tug remains submerged. Its resultant diesel spill is uncontained as booms continue to fail, most recently on Saturday morning. An estimated 110,000 litres of diesel fuel and other petroleum products has spilled into an area vital to local food security and colloquially referred to as the “breadbasket” of Heiltsuk territory. Members of the community harvest at least 25 species from the area, including cockles, clams, seaweed, kelp halibut, prawns and both sockeye and coho salmon.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the territory to all fishing on October 14. It is unknown when it will reopen.

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Photos and video of the Ministerial visit are available here: https://spaces.hightail.com/space/TtgLv

For more information contact:

Ayla Brown
Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator

Download PDF

Heiltsuk infuriated by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s statement on diesel spill

For Immediate Release

Heiltsuk infuriated by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s statement on diesel spill

October 26, 2016 (Bella Bella) – A statement just released by Canada’s fisheries minister has left Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett angered and dismayed.

“I’m infuriated by Minister Leblanc’s seemingly good news statement that suggests that now that transfer of diesel from the tanks of the tug Nathan E. Stewart is complete, we are basically turning our focus to pulling the dirty tug out the water and sending it away,” said Chief Slett.

Leblanc’s comments, she said, suggest that everything is under control and the end is in sight.  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no end in sight for the Heiltsuk people.”

“The Heiltsuk have been told it could be weeks before the salvage operation even begins, and we’ve only started to scrape the surface to find out the extent of the damage done by the spill,” Slett said.  “This demonstrates how out of touch and unresponsive Fisheries and Oceans is with what is happening on the ground in Bella Bella.”

Chief Slett says the fisheries minister needs to come to Bella Bella to see firsthand how much work remains to be done. According to Chief Slett, Fisheries and Oceans did not have anyone on the ground for close to a week after the spill and the Heiltsuk have been taking the lead on environmental assessments to determine spill impacts on local and commercial fisheries.

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For more information:

Chief Marilyn Slett

Bessie Brown

Jo Anne Waltonjoawalton@gmail.com

Download PDF

Day 12: Ground Crews turn to Shoreline Contamination in Kirby Oil Spill


Day 12: Ground Crews turn to Shoreline Contamination in Kirby Oil Spill

Bella Bella (October 24, 2106) – Shoreline cleanup crews have been deployed to try to recover diesel contaminating tidal beaches and rocky shoreline areas from the sunken Nathan E. Steward tug in Heiltsuk waters.

Trapped oil has been discovered in at least three coves in Seaforth Channel. Beach crews have been deployed to find stranded oil on beaches and rocky shoreline areas. Crews will be raking beaches to bring up diesel trapped 6 to 8 inches below the surface and flush it out with water – an ongoing process that will have to be repeated in the same areas over the coming weeks.

Incident Command reported this morning that divers discovered at least one of the heavy oil tanks on the dirty tug was damaged and contained seawater. Heiltsuk are concerned about the additional impacts of heavy oil from the tug on marine life in the area. Schools of juvenile herring were filmed at the dirty tug and an orca was spotted in Seaforth Channel yesterday.

The seafloor also contains sea urchins, sea cucumbers, a variety of clams, kelp forests and juvenile salmon. Gale Creek is the area where the Heiltsuk commercial and food harvest clam fishery takes place.

TODAY’S PHOTO LINKS: Day 12 – https://spaces.hightail.com/space/Yxnp7

J-Peg Image 8: Wolf tracks in diesel soaked boom
J-Peg Image 4: Diesel in intertidal pools
J-Peg Image 3: Diesel soaked beaches

Image 2: Manila clam on diesel-soaked beach

Video 2: Orca whale spotted in Seaforth Channel 

For more information, contact:

Jo Anne Walton – 778.953.3103




Bella Bella (October 23, 2010) – Bad weather and storm warnings stalled small boom maintenance boats for a fourth day in a row this morning, delaying efforts to repair an outer boom that broke free late Friday and released diesel oil beyond containment barriers.

Winds up to 50 knots have been forecast for the coast later today. Aerial photos taken yesterday show slick flowing from the broken boom, and Unified Command reported diesel spreading at least one kilometre beyond the containment area.

Heiltsuk spill responders grow increasingly worried about diesel spreading to Gale Passage, a highly sensitive ecological and marine resource area – one of several areas of concern.

“In the first week of the spill, we had the largest tides of the month at 17.4 feet,” says Heiltsuk Aquatics Manager Mike Reid. “Even without bad weather, the speed of tides rushing through the spill site are likely to flush diesel into the area.”

Heiltsuk Aquatics Manager Mike Reid says he’s worried about diesel contamination of the passage – a vital area for a variety of clam species, sea cucumbers, sea urchin, juvenile salmon and herring, eelgrass, kelp and other marine species. The south end of Gale Passage opens into an important herring spawning area.

Dive footage taken yesterday show endangered abalone in the spill area – a species Heiltsuk have been working to help recover. Divers also filmed schools of juvenile herring surrounding the sunken tug.

The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, site says, “Diesel is considered to be one of the most acutely toxic oil types. Fish, invertebrates and seaweed that come in direct contact with a diesel spill may be killed.”

Today’s Photos and Videos – Aerial and Underwater

Pictures from Seaforth Channel and Gale Creek area

For more information contact:

Ayla Brown

Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator

Jo Anne Walton


Download PDF




Bella Bella (October 22, 2016) –– Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett says her community is in a state of shock today as spilled diesel oil has broken free of barriers to contain it and weather is expected to worsen.

“From the air, it looks like the spill is completely free in the water,” says Chief Slett who flew over the area yesterday. “Containment has been Heiltsuk priority from day one. Why weren’t seaworthy booms put in place immediately after the spill?”

Chief Slett says the oil spill response corporation WCMRC now plans to bring in more seaworthy booms. She says it will take at least a day for the new equipment to arrive in Bella Bella and a gale warning is in effect with winds expected to pick up to 35 to 45 knots tonight.

A critical boom broke completely open late yesterday leaving the last remaining barrier containing the spill vulnerable to high winds and swell. For a third day, bad weather has caused small boom maintenance boats to be called back for portions of the day.

Today pictures from Seaforth Channel


For more information contact:

Ayla Brown
Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator



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