- Sep 21, 2016
A 360° documentary. Experience the aftermath of a diesel spill near the First Nations community of Bella Bella. See how the spill has affected one family — join a family dinner of seafood gathered before the spill, which will change the way the community eats “for who knows how long.”
On October 13, 2016, a tug boat pushing an empty American fuel barge from Alaska to Seattle ran aground near the First Nations community of Bella Bella.
The Nathan E. Stewart crashed against rocks at the mouth of Gale Creek, a main location for seafood gathering, fishing and hunting for the Heiltsuk people of Bella Bella. The tug boat sat on the bottom of the ocean, resting on sea cucumber beds, for 32 days amidst a recovery effort that saw little of the fuel removed from the sea.
Containment booms were employed after diesel and heavy fuels had already began to leak into the creek and spread throughout the territory, but they were no match for the power of the sea. The booms continually broke — even when they were intact, the fuel slick could be seen and smelled for miles away.
Narrator and filmmaker Zoe Hopkins brings us to Bella Bella, the site of the spill and her home community, to experience the aftermath of the spill firsthand. She sits in an open boat at the mouth of Gale Creek on the day the tug boat is lifted from the ocean floor.
She invites the viewer to a family dinner of seafood, all from Gale Creek. Her cousin, Robert Johnson, a hunter and fisherman, describes how this spill has affected their family and the way they eat – “for who knows how long.”
The local clam fishery has since closed, putting 50 seasonal workers out of work in a community of 1500. Since Bella Bella is a remote community, it's very expensive to buy groceries at the local grocery store due to the high cost of freight. The community often runs out of grocery store staples, so fresh food at the store can’t be replied upon. Seafood is the main source of food for many families to this day.
Robert describes the importance of passing down of traditional teachings; he had been looking forward to teaching his niece on her first hunt, which was called off due to the spill and the recovery efforts of their family. LaToya, Robert’s niece, worked at the spill site every day until she was ordered to stand down due to her young age.
The Heiltsuk Nation has witnessed firsthand what the government calls a "world-class spill response," but seven months later, the community is still struggling to recover from the impact of the spill.
Although the Canadian government has begun the process of introducing a moratorium of oil tanker traffic along this passage, it hasn't stopped this type of traffic: American fuel barges and their accompanying tug boats. Months after the Nathan E. Stewart disaster, another American tug boat and fuel barge ran aground in another First Nation’s waters off of Vancouver Island.