Government of Canada and Heiltsuk Nation reaffirm commitment to local marine emergency response capacity

News release

July 4, 2024

Bella Bella, British Columbia - 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. 

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

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 response.  

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.  


“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.”

The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“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.”

K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Nation

“Today's renewal is another milestone of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan. By harnessing the local knowledge and expertise of coastal First Nations, we're not only improving how we protect local waters, but also strengthening meaningful partnerships rooted in mutual respect and cooperation. Together, we will continue to protect our coasts and waterways for generations to come.”

The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez Minister, Transport Canada

“With projected increases in oil tanker traffic, this project is critical to filling gaps in marine pollution response capacity on the central coast of British Columbia. We look forward to implementing the Heiltsuk Marine Emergency Response Team on a renewed and timely basis.”

Wígvíɫba Wákas Harvey Humchitt, Hereditary Chief, Heiltsuk Nation

“As the lead federal agency for marine environmental response in Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard is committed to responding quickly and effectively to marine pollution incidents. By working with Heiltsuk Nation to expand the role of the Marine Emergency Response Team, we’re building on the existing role coastal First Nations play in marine safety and incident response. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with Heiltsuk Nation to continuously improve marine safety on the West Coast.”

Mario Pelletier, Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard

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 oceans 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.

Associated links


Gabriel Bourget
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Marilyn Slett
Elected Chief Councillor 
Heiltsuk Nation

Andrew Frank
Heiltsuk Tribal Council Communications

Laurent de Casanove
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez
Minister of Transport

Media Relations
Transport Canada

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