Like a cedar seedling in a forest full of hungry deer, the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust got a rough start in life.
But after surviving the Great Recession and a tangle of red tape, the once-troubled trust is now worth about $45 million and it’s very close to finally joining its big sister Gwaii Trust in funding grant programs on Haida Gwaii.
For Carla Lutner, chief operating officer for Gwaii Trust, that day has been just over the horizon for about four years.
“I’m so sick of telling people it’s really close!” she said.
Since March of 2014, the Gwaii Trust Society has been working with the B.C. and federal governments to try and resolve a legal problem with the way the Athlii Gwaii legacy Trust was set up in 2007.
Basically, the trust started with an improper mix of charitable and non-charitable purposes. Among other things, that put its tax-free status at risk.
To restart it on a better, tax-free footing, directors for the Gwaii Trust Society at first suggested making the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust into a stand-alone not-for-profit.
But late last year, the federal government said it would be better and simpler to bring it under the Gwaii Trust umbrella — both trust funds share a mandate to boost social and economic development on Haida Gwaii, and running two under one roof would save administrative costs.
On May 1, the Council of the Haida Nation, the Gwaii Trust Society and two more trustees for the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust sent a letter to both governments saying they support the idea.
Once they get formal letters back showing that the B.C. and federal governments agree with the new set-up, the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust can finally go into action.
Directors of the Gwaii Trust Society have talked about how the revived fund could help foster value-added forestry on island, as well as retraining for other opportunities.
“Those are some of the ideas, because the economy has shifted,” said Lutner.
“But they do want to consult with the communities, to come back and see what’s expected of this fund.”
Besides the coming re-launch of the Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust and some excellent cupcakes, good news at the recent Gwaii Trust AGM in Port Clements came from a few headline numbers.
First, Gwaii Trust funded just over $2.5 million in grants in 2017.
In fact, Gwaii Trust had budgeted up to $3.8 million for projects, but several Haida Gwaii communities are either strategically saving up their annual $250,000 Vibrant Communities grants, or they are still unsure how to spend them.
“Many of the communities are banking their funding toward larger projects and doing some strategic planning around what they feel the best bang for their buck would be,” Lutner said.
Some of the other large grants from 2017 included $100,000 toward the Haida language film Edge of the Knife; $182,000 toward new water mains in Masset; and a total of $130,000 for local food banks, school meals and other food-security programs on island.
Smaller grants supported everything from an exhibition of artwork by Katie Borserio to new firefighting gear in Sandspit, a new housing co-ordinator in Old Massett, and flights for the young Skidegate Saints who visited New Zealand on a Maori basketball and culture exchange.
In other news, the Gwaii Trust fund earned $7.3 million last year from a range of stocks, bonds, mortgage and real-estate investments — an annual return of 8.4 per cent.
Along with grants, those earnings allowed Gwaii Trust to cover nearly $2.5 million in costs.
Out of the total $4.9 million Gwaii Trust spent last year, 52 per cent went to projects while 23 per cent was spent on inflation protection, 15 per cent on administration, and 10 per cent on investment management.
Looking ahead, Lutner is eager to see the results of a Gwaii Trust-funded labour market study due in June.
Economic development is complicated, she said, but the study should shine some light on the challenges here.
“There is no one shining example of something that would turn the economy of Haida Gwaii from a resource-based economy to something more economically diverse,” she said.
Lutner also said she doesn’t think the Gwaii Trust can solve any of the islands’ economic problems by itself.
“We really depend on partnerships, and we really depend on a collaborative spirit — not a ‘you should’ but a ‘we can,’” she said.
“We can accomplish much more together than apart.”