Letter: Response to the “Potlatch” Transfer

Tuesday, July 5 2016

From what I could glean from the information provided thus far, regarding the “Potlatch Transfer”, it seems the people of Gabriola Island are being offered a collection of marshy, non-descript woodlots in relatively isolated areas of the island.  The intention being that said woodlots which border the Community Park could be used to potentially be included in and expanding upon the Community Park lands.  In return 25 prime view and/or location lots are requested in exchange along with some related zoning and other related concessions bordering and thereby expanding upon the village core, the downtown, or downvillage of Gabriola.  

My first thought was that, if this transfer is accepted, some of the village’s most popular short and pleasant hikes for seniors and others, including the awesome view hike between GIRO and the Clinic will most certainly be at risk and the view trail in particular will most certainly disappear when the new owners decide they don’t want strangers cluttering up their views and serenity.  For those who live in the village core for mobility reasons this scenario would only compounds their limitations.

Personally, I find the deal to be too one sided given the values of what is offered and what is expected in return, namely isolated woodlots for prime view and location properties that simply increase the density of an already over crowded section of the island.  Does anyone else worry about the water issues in the village with 25 new properties in such a congested area? Nor does there seem to be any governmental, bureaucratic or Islands Trust interest in undertaking the costs and maintenance of the transferred woodlots, costs that must be borne by the increased taxes for existing property owners.  Then there is the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ issue whereby zoning, density and transfer concessions granted to one party can immediately become accessible demands to others ad nauseum

But perhaps, for me, the most egregious aspect of this transfer of lands is the use of the term “potlatch” to describe the deal, particularly since it involves historically Indigenous lands.   Potlatches were not about deal making, they were an expression and “the basis of a Gift Economy as opposed to a barter economy or a market economy. The gift economy was developed under the auspices of the Potlatch ceremony in which a voluntary and recurring gift exchange circulates and redistributes wealth throughout a community building collective ties and obligations... A man elected to a leadership position was given the stewardship, rather than ownership, of the wealth of a tribe.”

Now if the applicant truly wants to follow the actual Potlatch gifting tradition i am sure the people of Gabriola would be honoured to receive said woodlots as a simple act of generosity and good PR.  Otherwise the use of the term appears to be a misappropriation and sadly seems to speak directly to the inadequacies of the deal itself. 

~ William Clegg