Land use forum hears about public interest

  • Jul. 12, 2004 5:00 p.m.

By Heidi Bevington-Land use planning impacts all islanders, not just those employed in the resource industry, representatives of the Skidegate Band Council and the public interest told the land use forum at its meeting in Port Clements Friday.
Cathy Rigg and Carolyn terBorg represent public interest at the forum table. They said their biggest challenge has been defining who they represent. They began their presentation with a slide show representing islands life – including images of wilderness solitude alongside images of hair salons, post offices, smoked salmon, restaurants and a kitchen table.
The public is anyone who might otherwise not be represented at the table, said Ms terBorg: community members and organizations that do not have direct employment in resource industries but who have an interest and concern for the environment.
Ms terBorg and Ms Rigg sent 92 letters to organizations and small businesses asking for input about the land use planning process, and last summer Ms terBorg met with 19 islanders for extensive interviews about what the islands mean to them.
Based on these two sources of information, Ms terBorg and Ms Rigg concluded that islanders take deep pride in the islands, and in their own self-sufficiency. Islanders enjoy adventure and exploration, and the rhythm of their lives is punctuated by seasonal food gathering. Islanders are deeply involved in their communities, welcome newcomers, and enjoy the slow pace of life on the islands.
“We owe our existence to Haida Gwaii,” said Ms Rigg, quoting the Haida constitution. The land and the islands’ way of life that includes safe communities and tolerance of diversity are critical values to islanders, said Ms Rigg and Ms terBorg. People hope the land use plan will bring stability and economic diversity to help balance the social problems brought by a boom/bust economy and eroding services.
Education is another major concern of islanders, both public school and beyond. People also recognize past injustices to the Haida people, but are concerned about the impact that changes will have on other islanders’ ability to access resources for work, recreation and food gathering.
The Skidegate Band Council’s Eddie Russ told the forum his participation was motivated by one word – “economics”.
“We are charged with looking after a community of about 800 people with up to 80 percent unemployment,” Mr. Russ said. “We have to keep an eye on this process because we have to help create a sustainable economy as well.”
Mr. Russ thanked all the forum members for their participation and commitment. “The economics that comes out of this table is the most important part,” Mr. Russ said before introducing Diane Wilson, a consultant helping the Skidegate band plan tourism development related to the Qay’llnagaay Heritage Centre.
Ms Wilson gave a half hour presentation about the developing adventure and eco-tourism markets and the importance of land use planning for that industry. The islands are blessed with abundant resources in a unique and spectacular setting that is perceived as a safe destination, she said. People need jobs in the resource industry, but the land must be managed in a way that also protects visual and natural resources or the tourism sector will be damaged.
As well as a healthy ecosystem, tourism also needs a supportive community.
“What do you want to share, and how do you want to share it?” asked Ms Wilson. Tourism planning needs to be managed to protect local values. Success in this industry depends on training and infrastructure, said Ms Wilson. The number of people visiting the islands will depend on basic factors like the number of beds available, and the quality of their visit will depend on islanders’ welcome.
Along with these two presentations, the forum heard small business forestry interests from Mike Hennigan, forest based employment from Betsy Cardell and non-timber forest products from Dwight Welwood on Thursday. These are the final interest statements. The forum will break for the summer and reconvene in September.

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