First Nation places ads in Texas newspaper shaming company for tugboat fuel spill
Heiltsuk Nation launches campaign against Kirby Corp. in Houston Chronicle
Residents of Houston, Texas had likely never heard of the Heiltsuk Nation until they read their morning paper Thursday.
The First Nation, located on B.C.'s Central Coast, placed ads in the Houston Chronicle shaming Houston-based Kirby Offshore Marine Corp. after the company pleaded guilty to a fuel spill from a tugboat that sank in Heiltsuk fishing territories in October 2016.
Kirby Corp. was fined $2.9 million in penalties on Tuesday in provincial court, but the nation has also filed a civil suit and launched a public relations campaign that included the ads on Kirby's home turf.
"There is not a dollar figure that we can put on our losses that is going to suddenly restore balance for us," said Jess Housty, an elected Heiltsuk councillor, who added there are 40 families whose livelihoods are affected by the damage caused when a Kirby tugboat spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils.
The ads say "Does Kirby care?' and direct people to a website where they can sign an open letter asking Kirby Corp. to take additional steps to rectify the situation, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Andrea Leinfelder.
She said she had never heard of the Heiltsuk Nation or the spill before this week.
"Honestly, we were going to do just a few paragraphs on the criminal charges," said Leinfelder, "but once we got on the phone with the nation ... we knew it was definitely a bigger story."
“Today’s sentencing was a far cry from real justice,” Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor. Kirby pled guilty and was fined $2.9 million which goes to the environmental damages fund. Our Nation will continue to seek justice <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DoesKirbyCare?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DoesKirbyCare</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JusticeForHeiltsuk?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JusticeForHeiltsuk</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HeiltsukStrong?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HeiltsukStrong</a> <a href="https://t.co/08ogharWyi">pic.twitter.com/08ogharWyi</a>—@HeiltsukCouncil
In an open letter to Kirby Corp. CEO David Grzebinski on the campaign website, Heiltsuk Nation chief Marilyn Slett wrote: "I would much rather work with you to make things right, than to keep fighting you in courtrooms and the court of public opinion, in the pursuit of justice."
Heiltsuk media relations spokesperson Andrew Frank said the ads will continue to run on the newspaper's website "for the foreseeable future."
The nation has also purchased ads on Facebook geo-targeting the Houston area and is considering buys in other Houston media outlets.
Leinfelder said it is too soon to gauge the public opinion of Chronicle readers, but she will continue to follow the story as it plays out in Houston.
To hear the complete interview with Andrea Leinfielder, click on the audio link below:
With files from Daybreak North