Bella Bella, British Columbia, part of the Heiltsuk Nation, has been poisoned by 52,850 gallons of diesel that officials are still attempting to clean up MONTHS after the initial spill.
According to reports from Indian Country Today, on October 13th, the Nation E. Stewart tugboat was traveling under a waiver that allowed it to pass through Canadian waters without a Canadian marine pilot. Not long after, however, it met its demise in the Seaforth Channel and sank, with over 52,850 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into British Columbia’s coastal waters near Bella Bella.
Thanks to harsh Canadian weather and high swells, containment of the oil spill has been next to impossible. Heiltsuk Council member Jess Housty explained earlier in November, saying:
‘At the moment unfortunately things are stalled. In order to get the tug dragged out to deeper waters and lifted onto a salvage barge, we need a good weather window, and we haven’t got one, and likely haven’t got one coming for another few days.’
At the time of the spill, the Indigenous community was in the middle of harvesting food they expected to last them throughout the winter months. Obviously this effort was quickly derailed in an effort to rally available support around containing the massive diesel spill.
Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould visited the community of Bella Bella to gauge the magnitude of the situation.
After flying over the spill, Minister LeBlanc reassured members of the community that the government was taking action to ensure the mess is promptly cleaned up.
‘I think in the coming weeks we’ll see the government of Canada step up in a way that we have been working on for a year. So this tragic circumstance reminds us of how important it is to do it properly.’
He went on, referencing one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign commitments:
‘The Prime Minister also gave a clear instruction to Mr. Garneau to ensure a moratorium is in place on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia.’
Coastal First Nations President and Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett told press the government is taking “an important first step, but our Nations need to be involved at the nation-to-nation level in the design and delivery of marine safety and shipping management in our territories.” Slett claims her community wants to be included in the decision making processes about vessel traffic in their waters.
Trudeau’s Liberal government campaigned on promises of tanker bans through areas such as Heiltsuk, prior to their majority win in October of 2015. But it seems these communities are still waiting, and damaging spills such as this one remain all too common.
But the oil spill is far from a single-handed issue, such as environmental degradation. According to Housty, the spill has been “heartbreaking for the community. We don’t think of the land and waters as being some lifeless, inert thing that’s just there for our convenience. It’s something that’s living and deeply connected to us.”
In fact, the oil spill has cultural, social, emotional and spiritual repercussions for the community.
Feature Image taken by Ian McAllister via Indian Country Today.