Gwaii Trust says farewell to long-term chair

  • Mon Dec 18th, 2006 7:00am
  • News

by Alex Rinfret–It was the end of an era for the Gwaii Trust Society Saturday (Dec. 16) as Miles Richardson stepped down after nine years as chairperson. Mr. Richardson, a former Council of the Haida Nation president who was instrumental in striking the deal with the federal and provincial governments to create Gwaii Haanas, led the society through its formative years. Under his leadership, directors spearheaded a project to bring broadband internet to the islands, lobbied to have the $24-million South Moresby Forest Replacement Account brought under local control, changed the makeup of the board to give Queen Charlotte its own seat, handed out millions of dollars a year to local organizations, and set up a Christmas fund for each community. Reflecting on his years as chair, Mr. Richardson said one of his proudest moments came last year, when directors voted unanimously to set up the Haida Parity Program, which sets aside $12.3-million for the exclusive use of the Haida communities over the next 15 years. The decision came after the Haida Nation demanded financial recognition of the fact that the federal government agreed, as part of the 1987 South Moresby Agreement, to pay for a harbour in Sandspit and visitor information centres in Queen Charlotte and Sandspit. Mr. Richardson said the Haida parity issue was one of the most nagging and divisive ever tackled by the board, and it took several years to come up with a solution. “I feel really proud of this board as members of this islands community stepping up to the plate and resolving this issue,” Mr. Richardson told the 25 or so people who gathered at the Old Massett community hall for Saturday’s annual general meeting. ” In the end, we achieved a consensus decision, not one dissenter… To me, that was one of the proudest moments and I take my hat off to the directors.” Overall, Mr. Richardson said in his annual report, his time as chairperson was “probably the most intense experience I’ve had of sitting down with islands communities.” The directors have often held all-day arguments, but over the years they have learned to listen to each other and respect their differences, he said. “We’ve had some good debate, dialogues, I won’t call them fights, around this board,” he said. “We’ve done it with integrity and an increasing amount of respect. “To me, it’s been an awesome experience, it’s been a very satisfying thing for me to participate in,” he continued. “Things are looking up in my view, they’re getting better. We’ve earned every opportunity that’s coming our way and we should cherish it.” Mr. Richardson said he felt good about handing over the chair to his successor, Ken Rea of Massett, and said he had the utmost confidence in the board to continue its high standards. Several islanders publicly thanked Mr. Richardson, and the directors presented him with a watch. Reynold Russ, Chief Iljuuwaas, congratulated him for his determination to work with other people, including other First Nations and other islanders. He recalled the days in the early 1990s when Mr. Richardson was president of the Haida Nation and deluged with questions about what he would do with the $38-million the federal government had promised, the money which eventually became the Gwaii Trust. “This is the result,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see everybody here working together. Once again Buddy, thank you very much for your dedication.” Mr. Richardson responded with a story of his own, from the days when a group of islanders first proposed the idea of a perpetual trust fund to a bureaucrat in Vancouver. The bureaucrat told them there was absolutely no way the government would ever turn the money over to islanders. It took five years, Mr. Richardson said, but the islanders eventually proved the bureaucrat wrong. “Persistence is what’s important, just keep pounding at it,” he said. Elizabeth Moore, chief councillor of Old Massett, thanked Mr. Richardson and also suggested that the Gwaii Trust start thinking about a way to honour the people who protested at Lyell Island in 1985, the action which eventually led to the creation of the Gwaii Trust. With the departure of Mr. Richardson and Skidegate chief councillor Willard Wilson from the board, the only person left on the Gwaii Trust who was at Lyell Island is Haida Nation representative Lawrence Jones. Haida Nation vice-president Arnie Bellis also said it is vital not to forget about the tough times some islanders went through at the time of the Lyell Island protest. People in Old Massett, and other communities, gave their last loaf of bread when the call for donations went out, to make that political stand. “As the Haida Nation, we achieved what we set out to do and that was protect the land. This is a bonus,” he said, referring to the Gwaii Trust. “I’d like to thank Buddy again, Buddy was part of that fight, he was our president.” At a short meeting following the annual general meeting, directors voted formally to appoint Mr. Rea as chair for the next three years. Under the society’s bylaws, the Council of the Haida Nation nominates the chair, who is then appointed by the board. Mr. Rea spoke briefly before the meeting was adjourned, thanking the CHN for appointing him, and thanking Mr. Richardson for setting the path for him to follow. Also formally appointed at the annual general meeting were two new board members, Robert A. Young (CHN-Skidedgate) and Jim Abbott (Central Graham Island), and two returning board members, Lawrence Jones (CHN-Massett) and Warren Foster (Moresby Island). the other board members are Richard Russ (CHN-Skidegate), Brad Setso (CHN-Massett), Ian Hetman (Graham Island North) and Ron McKee (Graham Island South).