The Gwaii Trust Society received a huge howa from one islander at its annual general meeting Saturday (Dec. 14), and a suggestion from another that it make preserving the islands’ remaining forests top priority.
Isabel Brillon, representing Skidegate’s Ngystle Society, gave heartfelt thanks to the society for funding a reiki course and an upcoming pursuit of excellence workshop.
“I’m here to say a big howa from our society to each and every one of you,” she told the Gwaii Trust directors. “You have helped us.”
Ms Brillon added that youth in every community on the islands are in crisis, and urged the Gwaii Trust to do anything it can to help in this area.
Skidegate director Willard Wilson agreed, saying that although the Gwaii Trust funds youth coordinators to work during the summer, more help may be needed.
“We need youth coordinators on Haida Gwaii,” he said. “If not in each community, at least in the southern end and the northern end.”
Tracey Moore of Old Massett also took the opportunity to speak to the Gwaii Trust directors, suggesting that they focus more on preserving the forest.
“I don’t even want to use the word protection any more, because we’ve forgotten what it means,” she said. “I’m not sure if keeping this money is worth it any more… If we could give the money back and keep Haida Gwaii intact, I’d vote for giving it back.”
Miles Richardson, chair of the Gwaii Trust Society, replied that he didn’t see how that would be possible, but that the board had heard her point.
The trust fund, which now totals approximately $62-million, spends the interest it generates three ways. Some is set aside to “inflation-proof” the capital. (The capital amount – which can never be spent – is now $45.3-million. It was $38.2-million when the Gwaii Trust was started up in 1995.) Just under $300,000 is spent on administration – honoraria for directors, wages for the two staff members, and office rent – and $211,000 went towards investment administration fees and custodian fees. The rest of the interest is available to spend on virtually anything the eight directors decide would benefit islanders.
To help guide its decisions, the board has set up various programs. Local communities and organizations can apply for grants under programs such as “Healthy Humans”, “Culture as it Relates to Tourism”, “Major Contributions” and “New Legacy”. Money is also available to individuals for post-secondary education and travel assistance. (Complete information about all programs is available at www.gwaiitrust.com)
Response to the programs last year from islanders was “overwhelming”, Mr. Richardson said, noting that the sheer number of applications means that there’s not always enough money for every worthwhile project. Directors have up to $5.5-million available to hand out next year, and are holding a further $4.3-million worth of grants which have been approved, but not yet spent.
According to the financial statements which auditor Jo Coffey presented at the annual general meeting, the Gwaii Trust made $3.8-million in investment income during its latest fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31. That’s down somewhat from last year’s investment income, which totalled $4.4-million.
Ms Coffey called the performance “not shabby”, noting that stock exchanges dropped an average of 22% over the same period, which covered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
In his annual report, Mr. Richardson welcomed new managing administrator Tanu Lusignan, who started working for the Gwaii Trust at the end of October, replacing Cliff Fregin. Mr. Fregin is now the chief operating officer of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association in Edmonton.
He also welcomed Jack Miller, the only new board member, representing Graham Island Central. The other board members are Gary Russ (CHN), Lawrence Jones (CHN), May Russ (Old Massett), Willard Wilson (Skidegate), Ian Hetman (Graham Island North), Ron McKee (Graham Island Central) and Warren Foster (Sandspit).
Mr. Richardson highlighted the work the society has done over the past several years to try and acquire the $24-million South Moresby Forest Replacement Account from the federal and provincial governments.
Federal officials gave their support to the idea two years ago, but it took until last month for islanders to get the support of the provincial government. Now, the province says it supports giving the fund to the islands, as long as Ottawa does.
“It’s an ‘after you, Alphonse’ situation,” Mr. Richardson said. “They all signal their willingness but neither of them will make the first move… Our efforts are now to clarify the federal support we secured two years ago.”
The Gwaii Trust executive committee is now working to secure the support of federal Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal by the province’s deadline of Jan. 15, he said.
Mr. Richardson ended the annual general meeting with a “gentle reminder” to islanders that the Gwaii Trust does have money available for an island governance initiative, but so far, no proposals have come forward.
“What’s the shape of governance on Haida Gwaii?” he asked. “How do we as an islands community address these issues and come to terms with them?… I’ll just put out again a gentle reminder that islanders need to think about effective governance.”
The governance initiative is funded under the Major Contributions program; the next deadline for this program is Feb. 14.
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