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Heiltsuk to sue for oil spill in territory and its aftermath

Nathan E. Stewart

“I wouldn’t wish these last two years on anyone.” — Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett

Heiltsuk Nation today announced it will take legal action for an oil spill in their territory two years ago.

It is coming up to the second anniversary of the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart, an American-owned tug and articulated barge in Bella Bella, a Heiltsuk community in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The tug, operated by Kirby Corporation, ran aground Oct. 13, 2016 spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuel, lubricants, heavy oils, and other pollutants into Gale Pass, an important Heiltsuk food harvesting, village, and cultural site. The vessel eventually sank.

“This claim follows two years of independent investigation by Heiltsuk into the spill’s cause, response, and impacts,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.

 “The preparation of this case itself is a major achievement, since Canada, B.C., and Kirby have denied or ignored our requests for information, consultation, and support. Our hope is that this case sets a new precedent for oil spill response for the province and the country. I wouldn’t wish these last two years on anyone,” she said.

Since the spill, the Heiltsuk asserts that Canada and B.C., as well as Kirby “have left the Heiltsuk to fend for themselves, declining to do a meaningful post-spill environmental impact assessment to determine the extent of contamination and other impacts on the surrounding land, sea, and marine life,” reads a press statement.

“When the Nathan E. Stewart sank it took with it livelihoods, our clam fishery, and part of what makes this place home,” said hereditary chief and first responder Harvey Humchitt.

“It was painful to watch the damage unfold as we waited for support and supplies. More painful still when the teams and equipment that did arrive were disorganized, ineffective and, ultimately, powerless to protect our waters and lands.”

Heiltsuk is seeking compensation for damages resulting from the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart and the subsequent oil spill. These include loss of traditional harvest and associated cultural losses, and commercial losses, as well as costs associated with oil spill response efforts, Heiltsuk-led environmental impact assessment, and other remediation.

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