When John Jack was named Friday as the new chair for the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, it put him in the history books.
Jack, a third-term councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and also a member of the ACRD, is the first indigenous person representing a First Nation to be elected as board chair of a regional district.
As chair of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board of directors, Jack said he will strive to work together with all members of the board to ensure that the whole region is represented and to get a better understanding of First Nations who aren’t directly involved with the board.
Jack said he’s the first indigenous board chair in B.C. representing a First Nation.
“There have been, I believe, indigenous people who have been representatives of electoral areas or cities that have taken the chair, so I wouldn’t take away from them, but in terms of being a formal member [I’m] the first one,” Jack said.
Jack’s community is a party to the Maa-nulth Final Agreement Treaty with the provincial and federal governments which grants the Huu-ay-aht a seat on the ACRD board of directors.
The ACRD also includes sitting members from the Yuulu?il?ath, Uchucklesaht and Toquaht First Nations.
Jack said being elected as chair is a great first step in terms of reconciliation.
“It’s a very forward thinking regional district, a very forward thinking board and a very forward thinking population that have allowed for this to happen,” Jack said.
“I think it’s a good signal to the rest of British Columbia that reconciliation is not only possible but it’s happening now and that we’re stepping into the future now.”
Jack was nominated as board chair by former board chair and Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne, at an ACRD board of directors meeting on Friday, Dec. 9. Osborne was later voted as vice-chair for the board.
John McNabb, director for the Beaver Creek area, was also nominated by Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan.
Both candidates had three minutes to voice why they believed they would be the right person for board chair and Jack took a clear win.
“The move fills me with an immense feeling of hope and the kind of need for a commitment to make sure the work gets done in a good way,” Jack said.
A goal for Jack as board chair is to have meaningful and inclusive input from all members of the board to ensure important items like strategic planning, budgeting and relationships with neighbouring communities are well accomplished.
Jack finds inspiration from the late Glenn Wong, former ACRD board chair who represented Cherry Creek, and recognizes him as a crucial leader in integrating First Nations into the ACRD in 2012.
“The thing that we were impressed with Glenn about, was he was very direct but respectful at the same time. When we sent in our letter of notification that we were looking to join (the ACRD board) he immediately engaged,” Jack said.
Because First Nations weren’t formerly included in the ACRD board at the time, Jack said there wasn’t a guide book to follow to help with integrating the nations.
Jack said Wong suggested the First Nations observe board of directors meetings for three months before officially joining.
“We talked about that as a council and mutually agreed that was a very wise approach,” Jack said. “We then worked together on what it would take to integrate properly and created a document—The Path Forward—that can serve as a guide for other treaty First Nations that may want to join in the future.”
Osborne said it was a difficult decision not to run for board chair for a third year but she is looking forward to fresh ideas and spending more time in Tofino.
Jack said he is looking forward to working closely with Osborne and will look to her for background information.
“Our relationship has been very beneficial, I’ve learned a lot from her,” Jack said. “A lot of what she does is very inclusive and well considered, especially because she has a very good scientific background. I’ve always respected that.”
Jack said he respects Osborne’s understanding of how First Nations can be involved and included.
“How we move ahead is always going to be up to the board as a whole and she understands that as well,” Jack said.
Jack grew up in Parksville-Qualicum where his parents met and he moved to the Alberni Valley in 2007. He eventually moved back to Oceanside to start a family and be close to immediate family. He was first elected councillor in 2009 and was reelected in 2011.