An oil spill ravaged their waters. This First Nations family stepped up to help stop it.

When Tracy Robinson went to bed on Oct. 12, 2016, she thought about spending time on the water the next day, monitoring crab fisheries.

Unfortunately, that's not what the next day held in store.

At 1:13 on the morning of Oct. 13 (local time), the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart and its barge DBL 55 ran aground on a shallow underwater reef near Bella Bella on the central coast of British Columbia, in the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation.


Diesel spilled by the Nathan E. Stewart (top center) streams into the water. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

For hours, breaking waves slammed its hull up and down into the reef, ripping holes in its fuel and oil tanks. Just before 10 a.m., the tug sank, and upward of 27,000 gallons of marine diesel began leaking out into the sea.

Robinson was one of the first people on the scene of the spill.

Robinson in her boat, tending to containment booms. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

For the first 36 hours, everything was chaos. The private company that oversees oil spill cleanup on Canada's west coast had boats that could help — but they were 185 miles and a full day's trip away. There were additional supplies and staff en route from Vancouver, but the small planes that flew them up the coast couldn't get out in bad weather for three days.  In the absence of leadership, members of the local First Nation, the Heiltsuk, took to their boats and stepped in.

"My partner and I were out there just before 10, just after the tug sank," Robinson said. "There were Heiltsuk boats pushing on the barge to keep it off the rocks. We started grabbing boom and waited for other Heiltsuk members to come out with the absorbent noodle boom, just trying to stop the diesel from spewing into Gale Pass. That was all we had and all we could do."

Cleaning up diesel in cold seawater isn't easy, especially on B.C.'s wild, rugged central coast.

There are strong marine currents, big storms, and rocky coastlines that make it hard to create containment plans. There are a million places where diesel can pool. It sticks to low-hanging tree branches and tall sea grass; it adheres to rocky beaches at high tide, then streams out into deeper water when the tide retreats.

Containment booms, a popular means of keeping oil in place so it can be recovered, are basically useless there because the wave action forces the diesel over their tops or underneath. Over the last 30 days, currents and storms have caused the booms to fail again and again, sometimes even pulling them apart, scattering beaches with diesel-soaked padding and styrofoam pellets.

The remains of a containment boom on a beach near Gale Creek. Image via April Bencze/Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

The Heiltsuk understand these lands and waters better than anyone. They also know what a spill like this means for the area and the people who live there.

When the tug ran aground, it did so on Athlone Island, beside the mouth of a narrow marine passage named Gale Creek. Nicknamed the "breadbasket," it's a particularly important hunting, fishing, and harvesting ground for the Heiltsuk people; they harvest more than 25 different food species there, from cockles and clams to sockeye and coho salmon. The Heiltsuk sell some of their harvests through a small commercial fishery and keep the rest to feed their families.

Cleanup crews deploy absorbent pads to soak up diesel in Gale Creek. Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

Robinson's family has a strong connection to Gale Creek. "My mom was a commercial clam digger for 20 years, and she worked there," she says. "Now I'm working on the water, and I was going to do my first clam fishery there this year. After the spill, we don't know when we'll be able to harvest there again."

A sea otter floats lazily in Gale Creek with the diesel sheen nearby. Image via Tavish Campbell/Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

A full month after the spill, there's finally a break in the weather long enough to start the process of dragging the tug off the reef and hoisting it on to a barge. Even that is slow-going and frustrating.

Once it is gone, many of the 200+ engineers and workers who've converged on Bella Bella will leave, and the Heiltsuk will be left to oversee the long process of recovery.

Cleanup crews collect soiled containment boom from the beach behind the Nathan E. Stewart wreck (top right). Image via Heiltsuk Nation, used with permission.

"When I was younger, my mom and I did a restorative justice program where we lived out in Gale Creek for a month," revealed Robinson, her voice breaking. "We had brought food, but we tried to eat as much as we could off the land. We ate mussels off the rocks, picked seaweed and sea asparagus off the beach. My mom pulled cedar bark, and we would weave baskets or cedar roses, trying to learn to live off the land. It was rejuvenating and brought back the culture in me. Now, I feel so lost and I feel so sorry for my kids. They’re never going to experience the full riches, the full amazingness of Gale Creek."

During the month the Nathan E. Stewart spent submerged off Bella Bella, Canada's federal government promised to implement changes that would make spill cleanup on British Columbia's central coast faster and simpler.

Prime Minister Trudeau's long-promised ban on oil tankers is guaranteed to come before the end of the year, and the Heiltsuk have asked him to make the announcement in Bella Bella. While those regulations are long overdue, they cannot fix the damage done here. The cultural, environmental, and psychological impacts of this spill will reverberate for a long time.

Robinson with family on the beach near Bella Bella. Image via Tracy Robinson, used with permission.

For Robinson, right now, being out on the water, helping however she can, is all she wants to do. "I was out on the water for 21 days straight with this spill. There's nowhere else I'd rather be," she said.

"I don't know what's going to happen when the tug is finally out of the water. I just know I'll be out there. The government says that our oil spill response system should be 'world-class.' But if anyone is world class right now, it’s the Heiltsuk."

Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
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Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

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