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17 is too many hours to wait during a disaster. Thanks to coastal First Nations, that’s changing

Four years after a diesel spill in Heiltsuk territory, the nation, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada have reached an agreement to form an Indigenous marine response team. The achievement is part of a recent wave of good news stories in Indigenous communities

On Oct. 13, 2016, the Nathan E. Stewart tugboat spilled 11,000 litres of pollutants into waters near the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, B.C. The emergency response? Less than ideal.

The disaster occured right on the shores of Heiltsuk territory, but it took the Canadian Coast Guard three hours to even notify the nation. Community members rushed to the scene to help, while Transport Canada’s spill response team didn’t arrive for 17 hours.

What if the Heiltsuk had been equipped to handle the emergency themselves? In the nearly four and a half years since, the nation has been working to do just that. And we now have good news to share: the Heiltsuk, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada have just signed an agreement to establish an Indigenous marine response team, The Narwhal’s Matt Simmons reports.

It’s a huge step that promises to help pave the way for an approach that harnesses Indigenous Knowledge to help protect waters and save lives. (Did I mention the Heiltsuk Nation is also one of five nations that have formed the first Indigenous coast guard auxiliary in Canada?)

Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett

“We’re mariners, we live on the coast. Our community has always responded to vessels in distress,” Heiltsuk Chief Councillor K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett says. “This [agreement] allows us to chart the next steps to expand response when it comes to oceans protection in Heiltsuk territory.” Photo: Louise Whitehouse / The Narwhal

The news out of Bella Bella isn’t the only bright spot we’ve covered this month.

The first conservancy in northeast B.C. has been established by the Halfway River First Nation after decades of hard work. Home to spruce stands, wetlands and wildlife like moose and lynx, the Tsaa Nuna Conservancy will ensure important cultural and ecological values are protected and passed down to future generations.

Drive four hours north of Halfway River and you’ll reach the Fort Nelson First Nation, where plans are now underway to build one of the first geothermal electrical facilities in the country. The nation has received $40.5 million in federal funding to transform a natural gas field into a renewable energy project that’s expected to power up to 14,000 homes. Put another way, the reduction in carbon emissions will add up to the equivalent of taking 5,000 cars off the road each year.

From Halfway River to Bella Bella to Fort Nelson, it’s been a week filled with big announcements from First Nations in B.C. We can’t wait to keep you posted on more developments to come.

Take care and share,

Arik Ligeti
Audience engagement editor


This week in The Narwhal

Heiltsuk Nation, federal agencies sign agreement to establish Indigenous marine response team

Jordan Wilson, Heiltsuk Coastal Guardian Watchman

By Matt Simmons

More than four years after the Nathan E. Stewart disaster on B.C.’s central coast, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada commit to funding and training Heiltsuk first responders and improving communication and collaboration. Read more.


‘Risk-taking is an absolute expectation’: Nicole Rycroft talks forests and her US$3 million climate award

Nicole Rycroft

By Sarah Cox

Canopy founder and executive director plans to use the Climate Breakthrough Award to scale up her work to shift packaging and clothing manufacturing away from forest fibre to tackle the climate crisis and protect biodiversity and human health. Read more.  


Tsilhqot’in Nation fights B.C.’s approval of Gibraltar mine’s waste discharge into Fraser River

Fraser River South of Williams Lake_Credit Tsilhqot’in National Government

By Judith Lavoie

A provincial permit allows the mine to discharge the equivalent of nearly 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools of waste water into the river daily during select months. Read more.

See where 120 orphaned baby bears take shelter as B.C. wildfires and drought shrink their habitat

It’s early February and the fields surrounding Northern Lights Wildlife Society shelter in Smithers, B.C., are bare and brown. Extreme drought conditions that dried up...

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