A film by a Salt Spring Island trio that had its world premiere at the Salt Spring Film Festival last spring was just screened at a sold-out, gala red-carpet screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Directed by Andrea Palframan, shot and edited by Gary McNutt and Alex Harris, the film chronicles the Heiltsuk Nation as they fought to push Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline off of B.C.’s coast. Just a few weeks after that victory, the Nation suffered a devastating loss: the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and spilled diesel and lubricants into one of the maritime community’s most important fishing grounds.
The Salt Spring filmmakers travelled to Bella Bella in the aftermath of the spill. They found that, though the community was reeling from the fallout of a mis-managed spill response, they were also working to revitalize Indigenous legal frameworks, engaging youth in deep cultural and language immersion programs, and honing a vision of the future grounded in respect for all of life, and honouring of all relationships.
The film, titled “Raven People Rising” chronicles how, though the Nathan E. Stewart sank, the Heiltsuk are rising.
Intended to educate and inspire, “Raven People Rising” has been screened across the continent to raise funds in support of the groundbreaking legal challenge Heiltsuk launched in the wake of the spill. Not only does the court case demand compensation for the damage done, it also breaks new legal ground in asserting Aboriginal title to the seabed and foreshore in the spill area — a legal precedent that would be a gamechanger for all coastal Indigenous communities. Funds are being collected by RAVEN, an organization based in Victoria with a mission to provide equitable access to justice for Indigenous Peoples, who are often outspent $100 to $1 when going up against powerful corporate and government players.
This week, Humchitt and the entire Heiltsuk Nation will be convening on the central coast community of Bella Bella to open a grand hall. The mural-festooned cedar Big House will sit at the heart of community as a triumphant marker of resurgence and resiliency. It’s a poignant coincidence that the day the Big House opens falls on the anniversary of the Nathan E. Stewart spill.
Says Palframan, “In a community where the potlach was banned, the Heiltsuk are rising out of the ashes of colonial violence. In a place that once had one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country, there’s this new generation of brilliant, spirited and unrelenting leaders stepping forward. The community’s elders have focussed intently on Heiltsuk youth, and by teaching ancestral ways and Indigenous laws, they’re rekindling ancient stewardship traditions and combining them with the very best of what Constitutional law can offer. It is humbling, and inspiring, to be a witness to that process.”
There will be many gifts exchanged in this week’s opening of Bella Bella’s Big House. RAVEN hopes to muster a significant contribution to Heiltsuk’s legal challenge.
Says Saul Brown, Reconciliation Negotiator with Heiltsuk Nation, “Through RAVEN creating space for us to tell our story, Canadians and others alike can now contribute to our means of accessing Justice, to actually making Canada live up to its own laws. And to me, that's a beautiful story of being on the right side of history.”
As the Big House comes to life, everyone is invited to be part of raising $10k for the Heiltsuk’s legal fund, as an act of reconciliation and redress. This will be the RAVEN community’s gift during this historic week of potlaching and celebration. To learn more donate at raventrust.com