Heiltsuk want strong leadership role in central coast oil spill prevention and response

Photo Credit April Bencze

Bella Bella, B.C. (November 15, 2017) – The Heiltsuk Nation today published a report outlining plans to take to strengthen oil spill prevention and clean-up on the central coast by establishing an Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC).

“When the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill happened last year, we experienced first-hand what passes for a ‘world class’ spill response,” says Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett of Heiltsuk Tribal Council.  “We waited for hours for a team to arrive, only to have them deploy defective equipment, in unfamiliar conditions, without safety gear or training for volunteer responders. As our community’s economy, environment, and way of life hung in the balance, we promised ourselves this would never happen in our territory again.”

The report Creating a World-Leading Response Plan describes the likelihood and distribution of various types of marine incidents on the central north coast, examines best spill response practices around the world, and, ultimately, puts forward a plan for the IMRC that will vastly improve marine safety and safeguard the environment.

In short, the proposed IMRC will:

●      be located in Heiltsuk territory where 80% of incidents in the study area occur;

●      be staffed by trained crew familiar with the local marine environment;

●      be equipped with vessels and equipment expressly designed for central coast conditions; and

●      respond to 100% of incidents in the study are in five hours or less.

The report was prepared by experts in marine safety and engineering, and shares priorities outlined in the federal government’s 2016 Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan (OPP). In particular, the IMRC plan shares the OPP’s focus on indigenous-led responses and dedication to “a world-leading marine safety system that improves responsible shipping and protects Canada’s waters, including new preventive and response measures”.

“Heiltsuk have been protecting and stewarding our territory since time immemorial,” says Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt. “This proposal is a natural evolution of that work, and builds on the best available local knowledge and technology. We look forward to implementing this with the support of all other levels of government and our neighbours. We do this not only for Heiltsuk, but for all who travel within and through our territories.”

Advance copies of the report have been shared with Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation. The report was made available to the public today.

With an initial investment of $11 million by January 1, 2018, the IMRC’s base operations, fleet, and crew could be in effect by summer 2018.

Additional information

  • Copies of the IMRC report are available here
  • Learn more about the 2017 spill here
  • Footage of spill / aftermath available here
  • Photographs of spill / aftermath available here

Media contact

To arrange an interview, please call or email:

  • Ph. 604.649.8613
  • E. media@heiltsuk.ca