The tug boat Nathan E. Stewart is seen in the waters of the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C., in an October 23, 2016. (photo THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk First Nation, April Bencze)

“Does Kirby care?” Heiltsuk Nation using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has called out Kirby Corporation for the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill

“Does Kirby care?” is the question that will be posed to readers from Houston, Texas in their newspaper and on social media after the Heiltsuk Nation bought ads to fight the tank barge operators.

The Heiltsuk Nation are continuing the fight against Texas-based Kirby Corp. after the company was fined $2.9 million on Tuesday, July 16 for an oil spill contaminating the First Nation’s fishing territory.

READ MORE: U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

In Oct. 2016, the Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils. Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation said the incident affected 25 species harvested for sustenance by the community.

“Does Kirby care about our community which is a coastal community that has relied on the coast for substance? Does Kirby care that there’s contamination and we are no longer able to harvest? Does Kirby care that 40 to 50 families in the commercial clam fishery are affected a year? Does Kirby care that no environmental impact assessment has been carried out and he will not move forward with one? Does Kirby care that we are spending our resources, as a small community, in court as a last resort?” Slett said.

READ MORE: North Coast First Nation chief says one major oil spill could ruin economy forever

The newspaper ads in the Houston Chronicle and the geo-targeted social media ads direct readers to a website with an open letter signed by Sleet calling on David Grzebinski, Kirby Corp’s CEO, to do the right thing. Anyone can sign their name to the Heiltsuk Nation’s letter.

“We both know this sentence does not represent true justice. True justice would mean paying for an environmental impact assessment, admitting civil liability, and working openly and honestly to address compensation and remediation for the harm caused by the spill. You should work with us to help reform antiquated marine pollution compensation laws, rather than hiding behind them,” Slett wrote in the open letter.

The company pled guilty and was charged with one count under the Fisheries Act, for which they were fined $2.7 million; the Migratory Birds Convention Act, for which they were fined $200,000; and the Pilotage Act, resulting in a fine of $5,000.

Sleet said the fines imposed are not part of the civil suit the Heiltsuk Nation launched against the company back in Oct. 2018. She said they do not cover the cultural losses, costs for an environmental impact assessment and remediation for their territory, which she says has been polluted.

READ MORE: Heiltsuk Nation sues B.C., feds, owner of tug that spilled 100K litres of diesel

The fines imposed from Tuesday’s ruling will be put into an environment fund which Slett says the nation will have to apply for, and there is no guarantee they will fit the criteria or receive any compensation.

“We are a maritime community that has lived in our territory for 700 generations and survived because we had a healthy ocean. It is part of our survival and the spill had a detrimental effect,” said Slett.

To date, Kirby Corp. has not made a response to the ads.


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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