Before 9 a.m. on the morning after they were elected, Skidegate’s new band council was already at work.
“We had to do things right away,” said returning Chief Councillor Billy Yovanovich, who ran unopposed.
At their first meeting after the March 15 election, Duane Alsop was named Skidegate’s deputy chief councillor, and everyone on the eight-member council talked about what portfolios to take on.
Even with three new members — Trent Moraes, Michelle Pineault, and Robert Russ — Yovanovich said this council brings a lot of experience.
Returning councillors include Duane Alsop, David Crosby, Lyndale George, and Michelle McDonald.
“I don’t anticipate much of a transition period,” said Yovanovich.
“I think we’re going to be pounding the pavement right away.”
When he was first elected as a councillor in 2010, Yovanovich said Skidegate faced a tough financial picture.
“We’ve turned it right around to where we’re in good financial shape now.”
Last term, the council oversaw a spending review, secured funding from Gwaii Trust, and began collecting some revenue from Skidegate’s pole plant — a joint venture with Taan Forest that started in 2012.
Given the capital loan and equipment financing needed for start-up, Yovanovich said the plant will be more profitable in the future, but it’s already providing jobs.
Council has also made good on its woodlot in recent years, logging at low cost thanks to a nearby forestry road built by Taan.
“They were quite gracious giving us road access, and we did well on the first cut,” said Yovanovich.
“We’re looking to do a second cut any time now, and log prices have increased substantially.”
Along with solid finances, the last council helped install heat pumps at nearly 350 homes — a village-wide project that grew from an effort to help elders switch off wood heat.
“It’s a big project we were all quite proud of,” said Yovanovich.
“There’s not too many initiatives where we can offer something to the whole community.”
Trent Moraes was Skidegate’s director of Lands, Energy and Housing at the time, Yovanovich added, so he is well suited to take on future energy projects, which may include solar installations or geothermal heating for the Kay Centre.
Speaking of the other new councillors, Yovanovich said Robert Russ has a wealth of fisheries knowledge, and brings much experience from his years of work with the Council of the Haida Nation.
“He’s been on the water all his life.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Pineault did a lot of work with youth in Skidegate as part of the band’s social development department.
“With some of our social issues right now, I think she’s going to be a real asset there, and she’s quite passionate about that,” said Yovanovich.
“We can never do enough for our youth.”
On that note, Yovanovich said one of the most important things the last Skidegate council did was to support the 14 Haida language learners now studying to be certified teachers.
“We’re very fortunate to have the active, fluent speakers we have,” said Yovanovich, speaking of the elders, many of whom are in their eighties, who continue to teach Haida at schools, the nursery school and daycare, as well as being the go-to people for translations and Haida words at SHIP (Skidegate Haida Immersion Program).
“We start taking it for granted — they’ve been so dedicated — but it’s become a reality that they’re not going to be able to continue forever,” he said, adding that he is amazed at the dedication of the 14 student teachers now two years into a teaching program offered through a partnership with UNBC.
Yovanovich said when he goes to off-island conferences, he often meets leaders from First Nations communities where people still live under a daily boil-water advisory.
That’s not at all the case in Skidegate, which has a world-class water treatment plant and an operator, Johnny Smith, whose work has won a provincial award.
“There’s a lot of things from previous councils that brought us where we are today,” said Yovanovich.
“I think we all feel pretty proud of our community — we care for it as well as we can.”