On a bright, sunny day in June, friends, colleagues and Gwaii Trust board members and staff came together in HlGaagilda Skidegate to celebrate the retirement of board member, Warren Foster, who has represented Area E (Moresby Island) as a director or alternate for 26 years. I recently sat down with Warren to chat about the past and to hear a few stories about the Trust over the years.
A heavy-duty mechanic by trade, Warren had worked in the forestry industry in Sandspit until 2008 when he joined Transport Canada, eventually becoming Maintenance and Operations Supervisor.
With an interest in supporting his community, following the standoff at Lyell Island and the signing of the South Moresby Agreement in the mid-1980’s he participated in the Residents Planning Advisory Committee (RPAC), a group of community leaders representing Masset, Port Clements, Daajing Giids, and Sandspit. The committee worked in collaboration with the Council of the Haida Nation as the “Group of Eight” to establish an accord on the Community Development Fund that had resulted from the signing of the South Moresby Agreement. As the Civic and Haida representative respectively, Warren and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas were delegated to travel to Ottawa to make the case for the Gwaii Trust, in time receiving funds to develop a business plan through the Gwaii Trust Interim Planning Society (GTIPS), eventually leading to the establishment of the Gwaii Trust Society in 1994.
Through strong leadership and good governance, the Trust that had started with $38.2 million in 1994 was worth approximately $94 million by the end of 2021. From the beginning the goal was clear for all directors: to work together to promote the health and well-being of the community and to make Haida Gwaii an even better place to live. As a result Gwaii Trust has granted over $91 million dollars for projects, programs, travel, and education to individuals and organizations on Haida Gwaii since its inception. A lot to be proud of.
But when I asked him what was the one thing he was most proud of, he replied, “the fact that before the Trust the communities didn’t work together, they didn’t agree with each other. The consensus model [used by the Gwaii Trust board] has forced both cultures and all six communities to work together to a common cause, and in my opinion that’s by far the largest benefit of the Trust. And it outweighs the millions of dollars that were spent.”
In 2014 a friend mentioned she knew someone about to be appointed as director for Graham Island South who was looking for advice on the role. Warren didn’t hesitate and offered his services. The new director was named Ellen Cranston, the woman who would become the love of his life, and they were married a year later.
Throughout the years Warren has been a friend, leader, and mentor to both staff and fellow board members alike, eventually gaining the moniker “The Godfather” bestowed upon him by previous Chair, James Cowpar. Sometimes he’s been an admitted sparring partner, but always, he says, with the Trust’s best interest at heart. When asked about what community he represents, he responds: “I’m from the community of Haida Gwaii. That’s the community I’m from.”