First Nations and Islands Roundtable at Trust Council

Susan Yates, Special to the Sounder.

Part 3 of 3 pieces covering the June Trust Council meeting

Wednesday, July 31 2019

A regular cornerstone of Islands Trust Council meetings is the continuing work of First Nations reconciliation in the Trust Area. At the quarterly Council meeting on Galiano June 18-20, this was also one of the most compelling sessions of the three-day meeting.

Council voted unanimously to carry forward the Reconciliation Action Plan for the next four years, and their intentions were verified by a moving witness ceremony conducted by Lisa Wilcox, Senior Intergovernmental Policy Advisor, who is a member of the Squamish Nation.

Trustees were reminded that they are in the same canoe, paddling forward, as their Coast Salish neighbours, and that protocol for working with First Nations in this territory requires full consultation and a parallel process for Islands Trust deliberations.

As the Trust intends to move forward with a policy review, it will be interesting to see how this fits in with the stated intention of a comprehensive public process.

As in previous Council meetings, Lisa went around the table, asking each of the 26 Trustees to listen with an open heart and mind and to bear witness to their discussions and decisions in the event that they are called up to speak about what they have heard this day, and so that the work may be carried back to each Trust community.

Watching and listening to this quiet part of the meeting felt like a suspension of time, and it was a moving reminder of the previous day’s welcome by Penelakut leaders Jim Chisholm and Ken Thomas.

I am always impressed by the astonishing patience and dignity of First Nations members when they meet and work with the government bodies, despite historical (and current) transgressions.

Strategic planning for the Islands Trust was an important topic of discussion at the June Council on Galiano, and there was much debate on how to uphold the values and legislated mandate of a Trust that was formed in 1974 in order to protect and preserve the unique environment of these precious islands in the Salish Sea, for all British Columbians.

Some of the discussion around the Council table focussed on how to inform people to be good environmental stewards, whether they be residents or visitors of the Trust Area.

Much of the talk centered on how best to work with other government agencies to strengthen and uphold the Islands Trust mandate and policy.

The Council Roundtable is always interesting, sometimes surprising.

This is the part of Council that observers often enjoy, listening to descriptions of the important issues and concerns that the islands share, and to what their unique differences are.

It is usually held on the first day of Council, and takes more than an hour to go around the table (13 islands, 26 trustees if all are present).

There have been three Trust Council meetings since the beginning of the 2019-22 electoral term, and our two Gabriola Trustees, Scott Colbourne and Kees Langereis, contribute significantly to all Council discussions, including the Roundtable.

Starting with Lasqueti this time around, talk of ferries that don’t run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays was a good reminder that despite our ferry woes on Gabriola, they could be worse.

Like Galiano and most of the Trust islands, Lasqueti is troubled by too many tourists who crowd the ferries, trample the sensitive ecosystems, do not know how to conserve water, do not respect local recycle and garbage limitations, and are not satisfied with the natural environment without the trappings and encroachment of city infrastructure.

Figuring out how to welcome visitors and not resent their social and environmental demerits is tricky business, especially when an island’s economy has been developed to depend on tourism.

Hornby’s report centered on the disastrous effect of “four weddings and a funeral:” reminiscent of a good movie, but referring to the fallout of such events all happening on the same long weekend, and what happens to the local beaches, trails, ferry schedule, and areas where short term vacation rental (STVR) crowds take over the quietude of an entire neighbourhood.

Like Gabriola and other islands, the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve regulations regarding housing are causing major headaches: envision a 10 acre vineyard and cidery that fits all the requirements of local, organic, and employment opportunities, but with only one house allowed on the property.

And we all know how difficult it is to find accommodation for local workers, with or without the problem of STVRs removing some of the available rental housing.

South Pender’s report focussed on the current debate between the Capital Regional District (CRD) and residents over a constructed (a long time ago) reservoir pond that has been deemed unsafe by the CRD, but necessary for an emergency water supply.

By the time I left Galiano, it appeared that from the discussions about the ferry parking lot that perhaps the local governments were coming to an understanding about how to keep the pond and make it safe.

The March Council report on rats taking over South Pender seemed tame compared to this heated discussion.

Tourism again was a topic of discontent, with South Pender being the only island in the Trust Area with no STVR regulations, and some areas suffering mightily from large numbers of visitors who have no idea how to respect the social and ecological environment.

Mayne Island is seeing the problem of saltwater intrusion into wells and groundwater aquifers increasing, related to well-drilling and water use in the wrong places or simply to the exhaustion of water sources that are too close to intrusion areas.

This is a problem that goes back at least 30 years, because I remember the same discussion from 1989, when groundwater experts from the San Juan Islands warned their northern counterparts to prevent this happening at all costs.

The island reports are not all dire news; Mayne Island is experiencing a welcome growth of tiny homes, which logically require less use of all natural resources to build and maintain.

Denman Island Trustees echoed the problem of STVRs and the lack of affordable housing, and are asking for bylaw enforcement for the ones that are illegal (no temporary use permit or rezoning application usually means it is illegal).

Denman’s March Council meeting report of groundwater shortage on Gabriola was repeated: for many years a local company supplied tanker water to households during drought periods, but that one and only groundwater supply has now disappeared.

Thetis Island is dealing with docks: too many are taking up the foreshore, some legal and some not, and there is one retaining wall in particular that encroaches significantly on a Penelakut midden and burial ground.

The Gabriola report from our two local Trustees covered the ongoing problems with available/affordable housing, the recent skateboard park decisions, and transportation issues.

Fittingly, Scott Colbourne rode his bike from New Westminster to Galiano (via Tsawwassen), having just attended the Active Transportation Summit (he rode his bike to New Westminster from here, too).

North Pender, like Salt Spring, is desperate to find ways to stop the recent spate of rampant logging, especially clear-cutting, in areas that are deemed environmentally sensitive, and in other areas that are already suffering from drought.

All of the islands want the Province to recognize the need for the Islands Trust to be able to regulate logging activities in the Trust Area.

And, no surprise, Salt Spring has been trying to regulate the tidal wave of illegal STVRs, some of which have turned whole neighbourhoods into vacation zones for visitors who don’t give an island fig about local water and infrastructure limitations (garbage, parking, noise, etc.). Bowen Island has come up with a novel way to house summer staff for their marina and pub: float houses.

If the marine environment is taken into account, this could be a good answer to a common problem.

Like Salt Spring and Gabriola, marshalling the ferry lineup on Bowen is essential in order to prevent pre-boarding warfare.

I might add here, that I often take the ferry to Salt Spring, where there are traffic control marshals who help drivers get into line, in and outside the parking compound, without causing environmental and social mayhem, and they are not there just to keep the driveways clear.

Saturna Island, where the surrounding waters are home to the dwindling southern resident killer whale population, has ongoing concerns about freighter traffic and anchorages, especially the noise, which increases with vessel speed and numbers.

And water shortages have resulted in nixing secondary suites on the island, a conundrum that could be solved if only the Province would approve rainwater catchment as a potable water source.

Ending the Roundtable reports on a more positive note, Galiano Trustees were pleased to report that they are working with their Penelakut neighbours to have bilingual signs denoting the First Nations historical and socio-cultural meaning of many Galiano place names.

And, Galiano residents have seen elk on their island for the first time in historical memory – so too have residents of Salt Spring.

Gabriola is next – it’s an easy swim across most of the inter-island channels if you’re an elk! Lastly (this is positive), Gambier/Keats islands recently hosted a very successful Howe Sound Forum focusing on the marine environment.

And I don’t know if this is positive or not, but the Gambier/Keats Trustees seemed happy to report that at their last Local Trust Committee meeting, everyone left happy.

That might be because the only audience attendee was Ripley the dog, who can nap anywhere.