ADVISORY: Traditional healing ceremony underway to mark one year anniversary of oil spill, restore balance
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Gale Passage, Heiltsuk Territory (Friday, October 13) – Heiltsuk hereditary leaders are gathering on the shores of Gale Passage where this time last year over 110,000 litres of diesel fuel, lubricants, heavy oils, other pollutants spilled into a harvest site of deep cultural significance, disrupting the lives and spirits of the entire nation and its ancestors.
Today, the leaders gather at the ancient village site to wash the spirits of first responders, harvesters, and ancestors harmed by the incident following a community-wide healing ceremony Thursday night in Bella Bella.
“Our teaching is that if you don’t wash off the negative experience, it haunts you and it gets in the way of you being complete,” says Pauline Waterfall, a Heiltsuk knowledge keeper and member of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. “We can visit the courts for policy reform and damages, but that won’t make us complete. More is needed to stop the suffering inflicted on our responders, chiefs, community, and ancestors who are connected to Gale Passage.”
The oil spill jeopardized the breadbasket of the nation, especially valued as a site for teaching Heiltsuk youth how to harvest marine resources, like clams and seaweed. The response to the spill has been widely considered a failure of Canada’s ‘world class’ spill response, and events since have exposed massive holes in oil spill response framework with respect to Aboriginal rights protected by the Constitution. Less discussed, however, are the implications of the spill for the spirits and wellbeing of community members connected to the incident and spill site.
“This washing ceremony will begin to restore balance of the spirits that the spill disrupted,” says Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief λáλíyasila (Frank Brown), whose lineage comes from Gale Passage. “This is for our first responders who were there at daybreak and helpless to stop the disaster that unfolded. For the people who collect food there and who have had to go without. For the children who played on the beaches, the elders who lived here, and people who died here. Only once we have addressed the disruption can we move forward as a community.”
To date, the federal government, B.C. Ministry of Environment, and Kirby Corporation (the polluter) have refused to participate with the Heiltsuk in a comprehensive impact assessment to determine current and long-term impacts of the spill on the health of the responders, community, ecosystem, marine resources, and local economy.
“It is unacceptable that our social and cultural rights are paramount in principle, but mean nothing when our environment, economy, and culture hangs in the balance,” says Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, in Vancouver at the Assembly of First Nations raising awareness of the provincial and federal governments’ treatment of the issue. “If B.C., Canada, and Kirby Corp insist on doing the bare minimum because what law there is, is not adequate, then that law must change. Right now we’re pursuing every avenue – traditional, western academic, and legal – to document and expose the injustices that have been forced on our community in the hopes that we can get justice for our people and save our neighbours the suffering our community has had to bear.”
The healing and washing ceremonies are sacred rituals meant to address the disruption and loss suffered by the spirits of those affected by the spill or connected to Gale Pass. It’s part of a series of cultural and health-based responses coordinated by the community to address the cultural, social, and economic distress felt at the community- and individual-levels as a result of the spill.
Earlier this year, archaeological research reaffirmed Heiltsuk oral history and 2015 Declaration of Rights and Title when carbon dating of tools revealed the site was over 14,000 years old. (For reference, the pyramids of ancient Egypt and ruins of ancient Rome date back approximately 5,000 and 2,000 years, respectively.)
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