June Trust Council Part 1: Introduction and Policy Statement

Susan Yates

Special to the Sounder

Wednesday, June 30 2021

The Islands Trust quarterly Council meeting scheduled for 3 days in June was mercifully shortened to only 2 days, thanks to Trustees working through a 320-page agenda with considerable efficiency. By the end of Day 2, however, the zoom gremlins and the long, sometimes complicated electronic discussions were noticeably taking their toll on what are usually very civil and thoughtful conversations. Suffice to say much is lost when 26 people are supposed to be completely present but the electronic medium presides.

Chair Peter Luckham from Thetis Island opened the meeting of Trustees from the 13 Trust Area Islands with a sombre and sincere acknowledgment of the recently announced discovery of 215 unmarked graves of children who had attended the Kamloops Residential School; those children who never had a chance to become adults, who did not know the kindness of caring teachers, and who died alone.

Peter Luckham removed his mask, speaking from the Trust office in METULIYE/Victoria, saying “I cannot stand behind a mask while acknowledging the importance of committing to 215 seconds of silence to honour those children so missed and so loved.” Council members bowed their heads for 215 seconds to reflect upon the horror and terror for so many Tk’emlu’ps and Secwe’pemc families not knowing what happened to their little ones, whom they were never to see again after they were taken, most often forcibly, to that ‘school’. 

Senior Intergovernmental Policy Advisor Lisa Wilcox thanked Council members for their dedicated work on Reconciliation in the truest sense (not just words), and thanked Trustees for all of the time they have taken to do the learning required for meaningful action and ongoing Reconciliation.

The Trust Programs Committee, which has been guiding the Policy Statement renewal work for the past 2 years, includes a TPC Reconciliation Working Group, whose parallel work on the Policy Statement has been outstanding. I have read their Discussion Paper, ‘Truth Precedes Reconciliation’ several times and find it very moving, as well as educational. It includes these headings: No Acknowledgment of Place; Missing from the Trust Object; Missing from History; Terra Nullius; Residential Schools; 10,000 Years of Knowing; Double Standards; Failure to Protect Cultural Heritage; Continued Legacy of Inaction. The Discussion Paper ends with these words from Chief Roland Wilson, West Moberly First Nation: “You can show Canada and the world that the only way to escape our colonial history of neglect and betrayal is to act boldly and honourably in the decisions that lie before us today.”

Although my Council reports usually begin with the Trustee Roundtable and Island Updates, as an introduction to the Islands and their representatives, this one begins with the work Council has done to date on the Policy Statement, which took place on the 2nd day of the meeting. A long and sometimes impassioned discussion ensued on the afternoon of June 9, in order to prepare for the special Policy Statement (1st draft) Council meeting on July 8. This meeting will be preceded by a public Town Hall on July 7, in order to get more comments before that 1st draft is ready for Council consideration.

Council discussion on the Policy Statement review and upcoming 1st Draft reading followed similar patterns to the full-day meeting devoted to this topic in early May, during which rousing debates and conversations focussed on the primacy of the Trust’s environmental mandate, and whether affordable housing should have as much focus in the Policy Statement as it does in community conversation.

It is interesting and sometimes disheartening to realize that the topic of affordable housing has become so urgent in many of the Trust Area communities that the original (1974) intent of the Islands Trust legislation, focussing on the natural environment as no other government does, sometimes gets lost.

It is obvious that all of the Trustees, from Saturna to Bowen Island, are concerned about the lack of affordable housing everywhere, not just in the Trust Area. And it is sometimes uncomfortable to see them try to ‘balance’ their communities’ concerns with their duty to support the Object of the Trust. Many letters have been written to the Trust concerning the Policy Statement review and the upcoming 1st draft, probably more than for any other issue facing Trust Council in the past few decades. 

Long-time Islands Trust supporters tend to write in support of the Trustees maintaining the primacy of the original intent of the Islands Trust – to preserve and protect the natural amenities of the Trust Area for the benefit of the province. Community activists who are younger and with less ties to the historical mandate of the Islands Trust focus on how their local government must do something to make housing available to everyone. No one could doubt the urgency and sincerity of these concerns.

Regardless of how the next few weeks of Trust work progresses towards (hopefully) a Policy Statement  that Council agrees to for 1st reading, there is still much work to be done by the Trustees and the Trust Programs Committee members who have so far worked miracles with the revisions, especially by focussing on priority areas of Reconciliation, climate change, and affordable housing.

On July 7 an electronic Town Hall is planned for 7-9 pm, during which members of the public may speak for up to 2 minutes about the Policy Statement 1st draft. On July 8 Trust Council will hold a special meeting from 9 am to 2 pm, to consider 1st reading of the draft of the revised Policy Statement, which has already had considerable input from the public over the past 18 months. Concerted efforts to work with First Nations across the Trust Area has also contributed significantly to this 1st draft.

First reading of the Policy Statement will trigger the next steps: more public engagement and referrals to many provincial and regional agencies, with First Nations engagement running parallel to this process. Council Chair Peter Luckham has assured the public that there will be at least 3 months for members of the public to provide their feedback, by e-mail or letter. A survey will also be posted on the Islands Trust website, along with continuous updated information about the Policy Statement project. 

If you are interested in how the Islands Trust Policy Statement guides the work of the Trust as Council and at the Local Trust Committee level, please read the entire document so that you get a full understanding of how it reflects historical and current efforts to preserve and protect the unique ecosystems in the Salish Sea and Howe Sound.  And remember that this place where we are so fortunate to live needs our stewardship, and that it is the traditional territory of 36 First Nations, Tribal Councils, and Treaty Groups, whose ancestry here goes back more than 10,000 years.