Downtown Eastsider brings varied experience to new position on the islands

  • Jul. 16, 2008 11:00 a.m.

By Heather RamsayHe’s been a longshoreman, a taxi driver, a social activist, a politician and a government bureaucrat. Now Jim Green, a front-runner in Vancouver’s 2005 mayoral race, is turning his attention to the Misty Isles. Mr. Green is the new chief executive of the Misty Isles Economic Development Society and says in this new position all of his experiences are coming together. In Vancouver, he’s fought for safe injection sites, social housing and the Downtown Eastside, with one of his biggest accomplishments – the redevelopment of the old Woodward’s building at Hastings and Carroll into a mix of market and social housing spaces – finally on its way. Why would a man with such urban credentials want to come and work on Haida Gwaii, a place he’d never visited until he came up for the interview a couple of months ago? Mr. Green offers a couple of suggestions. “Like many, I’ve been in love with the islands even though I’d never been here before,” he said. Mr. Green is originally from the southern United States and arrived in Vancouver in the 1970s. He now holds a Masters in Anthropology from UBC and teaches there too, but remembers his very first paper, written more than 40 years ago, was about the Haida. Now with a two-year, half-time contract Mr. Green’s can still work on his Vancouver projects and come and go from the islands too. “It’s the best of all possible worlds,” he says. But it’s not just about him. Mr. Green is enthusiastic about working with his board. The 17-member society was formed in January 2008 and funded with an initial $500,000 from the province and an additional $140,000 from the Northern Development Trust. Members include the five elected leaders of the non-Haida communities and 12 others appointed by this core group. He attended his first meeting with the board on July 14 and says the board has already accomplished two important tasks – forming the society and hiring staff, which includes full-time managing director Anneli Rosteski. Mr. Green says the board has given him a direction and their goals are to move the economy forward. Some pieces of that vision include working on community forests, telecommunications, finding ways to keep young people here and employed and exploring how the new container port in Prince Rupert may be of service to islanders. He brings a wide range of contacts to the table – he’s worked in most provincial ministries, headed the economic development committee of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and has business, tourism, real estate development and skills training contacts in his proverbial rolodex. He doesn’t want to appear too optimistic, but “we may even get things happening right away,” he says. “We’re not going to sit and plan all the time. We’re going to get to work.” Where he will do this work is still to be determined, but he expects Misty Isles Economic Development Society will have a fluid workspace. “We want to piggyback on existing groups, rather than have one office,” he says, allowing the organization to have a presence everywhere on Haida Gwaii. As for what he thinks about being the chief executive of a non-Haida organization in a place that has been working hard at becoming more integrated, Mr. Green says that one of his first steps will be to meet with the Council of the Haida Nation. “We hope to be business partners,” he says. With Haida and non-Haida economic development bodies pooling resources and maximizing their positions, everyone will benefit, he says. One of the challenges he faces is getting to know the history of the communities and the players, but after his initial visit (he left July 15 after a two-week stay), he senses real enthusiasm about working together. He visited all the communities and introduced himself around. “I haven’t heard one person say we should go on our own,” he said. The society is still developing its governance structure, he says, but is working on a way to include the public in the process. And with a nod to concerns that islanders, including Haida Nation vice-president Arnie Bellis, have voiced, Mr. Green says another challenge will be to fulfill one of his own personal goals – and find a local successor to his position.

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