Photo Credit: Tavish Campbell /

In Bella Bella, there is one grocery store, one gas station, no restaurants and now, the only means that locals have to feed themselves was covered in oil.

June 1st marks the beginning of National Indigenous History Month, a month to celebrate and reflect on Canadas important steps towards reconciliation with First Nations.

Bill C-48, The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, is just one cog in the wheel of Canada’s broader plan to advance reconciliation with First Nations. Bill C-48 comes directly at the request of Coastal First Nations communities who seek to protect their waters and salmon rivers for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

This important piece of environmental legislation protects the territorial lands that the Coastal First Nations have inhabited for millennia by formalizing in law a ban on super tankers carrying crude and persistent oil on their coast in northern British Columbia.

Simply put, Coastal First Nations cannot afford another spill devastating their land and waters.

On October 2016, when the Nathan E. Stewart Tug and Barge spilled 109, 000 litres of petroleum on a Heiltsuk fishery, the community was devastated.

The spill, which was largely classified as “small” by experts, destroyed a rich ecosystem where Coastal First Nations have traditionally harvested marine wildlife using sustainable practices passed down from generation to generation. The oil devastated their business and wreaked havoc on their shore leaving thick black residue on the coastline.

To demonstrate the impact the spill had on the local first nation’s communities, it is important to note that an entire community, their livelihood and financial means came from this shellfish and seafood harvesting area.

In Bella Bella, there is one grocery store, one gas station, no restaurants and now, the only means that locals have to feed themselves was covered in oil.

Coastal First nations are subsistence communities – they rely on the natural resources to provide basic needs through fishing and subsistence agriculture.

The Coastal First Nations of the north coast survive by accessing the resources of the sea not because they want to, but because they have too.

Bella Bella is a small community only accessible by boat, by plane and by ferry once a week, the remoteness of the area means that you simply cannot survive without the resources from the land and water.

In cities, we take for granted how easy it is drive in your car to the nearest grocery store to pick up some fresh salmon and produce but for First Nations in Bella Bella – the water is their grocery store and the fisherman is the grocer.

That is why protecting their resources is a matter of survival. Without Bill C-48 safeguarding the land from the risk of oil spill, thousands of years of sustainable development, of survival, will be in danger.

For the month of June, when we are celebrating the achievements and diverse heritage of First Nations in Canada, let us remember the Coastal First Nations on the North Coast of my home province and how they simply cannot afford to see the same devastation materialize again.

Let us both, First Nations and Non-First Nations come together, from coast to coast, to stand up and protect the lands that the Heiltsuk and other Coastal First Nations have inhabited for millennia and say: The North Coast of BC is no place for an oil spill.