Local filmmaker highlights need for better oil spill response

2017 was a big year for Heiltsuk’s Zoe Hopkins. Her debut film Kayaking to Klemtu won the Air Canada Audience Choice Award at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

In the film, the primary character, Ella, is on a quest to prevent oil spills in her people’s territory within the Great Bear Rainforest. But as the photography for this film project wrapped up a terrible and ironic twist took place in real life: the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground near Gale creek, contaminating the seas and traditional harvesting sites in Heiltsuk territory with over 100,000 liters of diesel and other pollutants.

Heiltsuk filmmaker Zoe Hopkins

Heiltsuk filmmaker Zoe Hopkins

Zoe immediately followed up Kayaking to Klemtu with another film project: Impossible to Contain.  Done in 360 degrees, this moving film takes the viewer into the chaos of the spill’s aftermath, but also into the dining room of Zoe’s family where a feast of traditional foods is enjoyed to honour Gale creek.

Impossible to Contain is a heartbreaking, yet intimate and beautiful film that has been viewed almost 100,000 times on Youtube. It points a finger at the inadequate spill response systems of the Federal government, but is also a tribute to the tenacity of the Heiltsuk people and their unshakable ties to their territory – ties that resonate with all of us as central coast First Nations.

Heiltsuk propose Indigenous Marine Response Centre

Within a year of the release of Zoe’s films and the Nathan E. Stewart disaster, the Heiltsuk Nation faced another major spill threat when a barge containing 12.5 million liters of diesel broke free from its tug, the Jake Shearer, off Goose island. Our Nations held their breath as the fuel-laden barge drifted towards the rocks. Thankfully, the barge was recovered and no petrochemicals were spilled.

“Indigenous communities bear the highest risk from marine shipping incidents and it’s time for our deep local knowledge and stewardship ethic to drive marine emergency response in the region.” Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.”

Nonetheless, the incident was a scary reminder of our Nations’ vulnerability to another major spill in our waters. This is why the Heiltsuk published a report (PDF) last fall urging the Federal government to support the creation of an Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC) on the central coast to provide timely assistance for marine emergencies where oil spills are a possibility.

The Heiltsuk propose a base on Denny Island with satellite locations along the central coast. The IMRC would employ a full-time staff of 37 locals who are familiar with central coast waters and weather, and trained in oil spill response. Fast response vessels and an Oil Spill Response Barge would be on call around the clock to significantly improve current response times for vessels in distress in this region.

“Indigenous communities bear the highest risk from marine shipping incidents,” says Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett in a December 2017 press release, “and it’s time for our deep local knowledge and stewardship ethic to drive marine emergency response in the region. We look forward to implementing our proposal for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre with the support of all other levels of government and our neighbours.”

Photo of Nathan E. Stewart spill by Tavish Campbell.

Posted by CCIRA

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Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance

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