***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
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:
Heiltsuk Communications Coordinator