After some tense debate, Gwaii Trust directors have updated the society’s bylaws and agreed to leave questions about changing its representative structure for another day.
Speaking at a Queen Charlotte council meeting last week, Devin Rachar, alternate director for Graham Island South, said it was good to see Gwaii Trust meet the Nov. 28 legal deadline to bring its bylaws in line with B.C.’s new Societies Act.
Had the Gwaii Trust failed to make the changes in time, it faced some risk of being dissolved.
“Luckily, I’m happy to report that at our last board meeting, we successfully passed the bylaws,” Rachar said at the Nov. 19 meeting, sounding relieved.
“They’ve gone off to the lawyers, and should be good to go.”
The bylaw updates are mainly “housekeeping” items concerning the society’s volunteer directors.
They include new conflict-of-interest rules, requirements for literacy and financial know-how, and a new protocol that empowers the board to unanimously vote off any director who shows unfit behaviour, misses too many meetings, or violates policy.
Another change allows alternate directors on the Gwaii Trust board to quickly step in if a director resigns or passes away, solving a technical problem that previously caused delays.
Most of the changes provoked just ripples of discussion.
But Masset councillors made a real splash in July when they pushed Gwaii Trust to also change the representative structure for the four “civic” areas — an idea that for a time was also backed by councillors in Port Clements.
Since 1994, Gwaii Trust has had four directors represent all the areas outside Old Massett and Skidegate. One director represents Moresby Island, and three more represent north, central, and south Graham Island.
With that structure, Masset council argued that one of Gwaii Trust’s major grants — the Vibrant Haida Gwaii Communities Grant, which provides regular, ongoing funding — is distributed unevenly across the islands.
Though it has more people, Masset actually receives less Vibrant funding than Sandspit because while Moresby Island and north Graham Island each get the same amount each year, Masset has to share with the nearby community of Tow Hill.
Masset councillors argued it would be more fair to have three Gwaii Trust directors represent the islands’ three municipalities — Masset, Port Clements, and Queen Charlotte — with a fourth director representing all the rural areas from Tow Hill to Tlell to Sandspit.
Until recently, Masset councillors said they would not sign off on Gwaii Trust’s new bylaws unless unless the representation change was also made.
But that stance changed after several councillors in Port Clements had a change of heart.
On Oct. 18, a motion to approve the representation change was defeated 5-1 at a meeting of the Graham Island Central Advisory Committee — a seven-member committee to advise the local Gwaii Trust director that includes five Port Clements councillors and two appointed reps for Tlell.
“Most representatives were uncomfortable forcing a change, preferring to examine the issue of representation over a longer time frame without the pressure of transitioning to a new Societies Act,” wrote recording secretary Brigid Cumming.
The two committee members from Tlell — Janet Rigg and Elizabeth Condrotte — also said they felt Tlell had far more in common with nearby Port Clements than with other rural areas like Tow Hill, and they questioned how well a single Gwaii Trust director could represent Moresby and rural Graham Island.
Finally, the committee passed a motion calling on Gwaii Trust to review its representation structure within the next six months, and to provide a report within a year.
Without enough support from Port Clements and Tlell to force the represenation change, Masset council later withdrew its request.
James Cowpar, the chairperson for Gwaii Trust, was unavailable to speak about the bylaws update or the representation question before the Observer press deadline.
Speaking in the Queen Charlotte council chambers last Monday, Councillor Richard Decembrini welcomed the switch.
“It’s good to see it went that direction — it was mainly not having any community consultation on it,” Decembrini said.
“You can’t just push something through like that. It’s just not the right way to do it.”
Arnie Bellis joined the 1985 blockade at Lyell Island/Athlii Gwaii that led to the end of logging on southern Moresby Island, the creation of Gwaii Haanas and, eventually, to the Gwaii Trust.
“The main thing in this is Sandspit was key in developing the Gwaii Trust,” Bellis said, noting that even though it was hardest hit by the logging blockade, Sandspit worked with other communities to turn what was originally a one-time provincial/federal payout into an ongoing, all-islands trust fund.
“I disagree with not having Sandspit on the board, because of the past,” Bellis said.
“But what does it do in the future? That’s a really hot topic.”