Coastal News

Canada and Heiltsuk Nation Reaffirm Commitment to Marine Emergency Response Capacity

Indigenous Nations and Canada share ties to oceans and waterways that span generations.

Often the first to respond to marine emergencies on the Central Coast, the knowledge and expertise of coastal First Nations are critical to protecting the waters there. Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan continues to build on opportunities to collaborate with coastal First Nations to protect, preserve, and restore our shared oceans and waterways. 

The Government of Canada and Heiltsuk Nation signed a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), reaffirming their commitment to working together to enhance the Nation’s role in marine environmental response within Heiltsuk territory.

The Honorable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said: “Indigenous Peoples know their land and waters better than anyone else. By working with coastal First Nations, we can learn from and apply valuable local knowledge that improves the protection of Canada’s marine environment. Increasing marine preparedness and response in Heiltsuk Nation’s territory by expanding the role of their Marine Emergency Response Team strengthens Canada’s ability to respond to environmental incidents off the West Coast. When we work together, and Indigenous communities have the tools they need to protect waters and coastlines, we are investing in a cleaner, safer future for all.”

Under the MoU and in collaboration with Heiltsuk Nation, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Transport Canada will continue to expand marine preparedness and response capacity on the West Coast. A pilot Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT) will continue and be expanded to support community-based oil spill response within Heiltsuk territory and will test methods on how to improve Canada’s national oil spill preparedness and response system. Heiltsuk Nation responders and the Canadian Coast Guard will practice key skills for spill response through exercises specific to the area, and they will also conduct on-the-water exercises to simulate real-life incidents and responses.

K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Nation, added: “As stewards of our lands and waters, Heiltsuk Nation’s vision is to be able to protect our territory from oil spills. We welcome continuing partnership and progress on this important work with Canada so that we can all carry out our responsibilities to keep our coast safe.”

Through the Oceans Protection Plan, we are strengthening partnerships with Indigenous Nations and regional groups actively involved in marine safety, keeping our oceans and coasts safe and healthy for years to come. This unique partnership and enhanced community capacity represent steps towards enhanced marine preparedness and response in Heiltsuk Nation’s territory.

Quick facts

  • In January 2017, Heiltsuk and Canada entered into the four-year Haíłcistut: Framework Agreement for Reconciliation. The Framework Agreement established a shared vision for reconciliation and identified priorities most important to Heiltsuk, such as creating a more collaborative, coordinated, and efficient approach to marine response and ocean protection.
  • The first iteration of the current MoU was signed in March 2021 by Heiltsuk Nation, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Transport Canada and expired in March 2023. The current MoU will expire in July 2029.
  • The MoU builds upon work accomplished through Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan to make marine shipping safer and improve Canada’s ability to prevent and respond to marine incidents. Since 2016, the Government of Canada has dedicated $3.5 billion to the Oceans Protection Plan, making it the largest investment Canada has ever made to protect its coasts and waterways.
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