SpruceRoots Magazine - April, 1999
A day in the life of Chief Councillor Kim Davidson
Story and photos by Ian Lordon
It's twenty minutes past eight on a Thursday morning in the Old Massett village office. The coffee is on and it's fresh, but already most of it's gone. The phones are ringing and there are a few people milling about in the reception area. Every now and then one of the staff emerges from the corridor of offices to exchange messages with Mary, the secretary, who juggles the handset while she handles questions.
Everyone seems to be in a good mood with plenty to keep them busy. Residents come and go, some with business, others show up to shoot the breeze, and the morning carries on this way until Kim Davidson arrives at a quarter to nine. He greets me briefly before he is besieged by staff and then ushered away to a cubicle at the back of the office to deal with a pressing matter brought to him by Crystal Robinson, the band's social worker.
When he reappears half an hour later he looks the same as he did when he arrived and as he always does: calm and unflappable behind his wire-rimmed glasses, his hair combed back, and his handlebar mustache draped almost menacingly over either side of his mouth.
Kim tells me it's time to go and pick up the day's business: the Bank of Montreal's manager of Aboriginal Banking, Ann Rheault, who is flying in on Harbour Air to meet with Kim, the Greater Massett Development Corporation, and the rest of the Old Massett Village Council on her last leg of a business trip that started in Toronto.
Kimball Wayne Davidson was born in Prince Rupert, the result of what he calls a 'carpenter romance' on November 9, 1957. His astrological sign is Scorpio and he quips 'I try to live up to it.' His mother raised him alone with help from his grand-parents until she met and married the man Kim considers to be his true father, a Sunday school teacher.
The oldest of four children (two brothers and a sister), Kim and his family lived in Prince George before moving to Quesnel where he remained until he 'sorta got through grade twelve.' His brother Keith is a lawyer with a successful practice in Prince George. His sister Penny works for Foreign Affairs in Ottawa after eight years of post-secondary. His other brother Bernard, also a lawyer, works with the First Nations Law Programme at the University of British Columbia. It's obvious Kim values and is proud of their education.
"A family of over-achievers," he remarks wryly.
In high school, Kim was into sports. A solid defenceman and right-winger on the ice, volleyball and basketball in the gym, he also tinkered with the parallel bars, the trampoline, and the pummel horse because he had a taste for running, jumping, and doing flips.
When he finished with school, Kim moved around the province trying different things until he decided to show Haida Gwaii to some friends near the end of August 1979. They turned up during the tenth anniversary of the pole raising in front of the village church, and the celebration and feast, which followed, convinced them to stay. The Islands have been his home ever since.
On the way to the floatplane dock Kim explains he was dealing with a housing emergency. A band member phoned to report a problem, one that has recurred several times in the last eight years, and the response from the band office is surprisingly swift.
"We should be able to resolve it by tonight," Kim says. When we reach the docks, Kim strolls out to meet the woman from the bank. She's in her fifties, impeccably dressed in black, and discreetly dappled with gold jewelry. Her hair is finely coifed in a short, professional cut with layers of expensive-looking muted blond highlights concealing her natural gray.
After exchanging greetings the two agree to chat over coffee and toast at the Singing Surf. The moment we sit down she lights up a smoke and takes a couple of long drags before launching into her spiel.
Rheault tells Kim she's originally from Dryden, Ontario where she worked as a branch manager until she moved to Toronto and Aboriginal Banking five years ago. It was her experience with her many native clients in Dryden which made her a candidate for Aboriginal Banking, and she says she's been with the program almost from its inception.
The Bank of Montreal decided to create an Aboriginal Banking program when it, like other national charter banks, woke up to the burgeoning financial opportunities brought on by recent court decisions and expanding native business ventures. Disconcertingly, Rheault mispronounces 'Delgamuuk' twice during the conversation, but the message is clear: the bank wants your business.
Kim has arranged a ten o'clock meeting at the GMDC offices. And as we get up to leave, he whispers to me half-jokingly, "this way we can show off our assets."
When Kim first settled in on reserve, he started working with his cousin and longtime friend Reg Davidson making masks, bowls, and other pieces from alder and red cedar.
"He (Reg) was doing phenomenal work back then, but it was a difficult time to sell. You didn't have the market for aboriginal artwork you have today."
In spite of the market, Reg persisted, but Kim went back to construction and building houses. It was during these early days, while working in Vancouver, that Kim met his wife-to-be Bernice.
"She saw me around for three months and studied me before she even approached me." Kim says he never knewhe was under surveillance until well after the first evening when Bernice, deeming him worthy of closer scrutiny, moved in for the kill. The first time they spoke was in a nightclub where he asked her to dance.
The courtship lasted five years, and today their marriage is still going strong thanks to a real commitment from both to make the best of their relationship.
"There was a lot of working things out with each other- negotiating. Negotiations went on quite a while after we were married," he muses. "Now, we have the odd quabble, but she's got a pretty good sense of humour."
Those years of negotiations helped develop Kim's respect for Bernice who he acknowledges is 'a tough bargainer,' but they also helped him hone skills he now uses in his present vocation...
"Yes I guess so, I'm a good listener."
Kim is a good listener. At the GMDC boardroom, Rheault goes through the motions once again for the village councilors and staff while they pepper her with questions and proposals. Meanwhile, Kim sits back and lets his council and staff take the lead, but he isn't dozing off. Every now and then he interjects with information of his own or a question to help broaden the discussion and move it along.
Number one on the agenda is a 300-house subdivision with a central complex area the council is trying to finance along Masset Inlet just south of the CBI fish plant. The proposed development is called Bluejacket and the band is exploring financing options with Rheault.
The hope is that Bluejacket will generate some jobs for Old Massett while it helps alleviate the housing shortage on reserve and allow more band members to move back to Haida Gwaii. But the subdivision isn't the only subject under discussion. The council is bubbling over with good ideas and projects they want to explore: a trail system from Masset to the westcoast, a band-owned airplane to fly passengers and freight like fresh seafood to Vancouver, and a fishing lodge on Langara with Haida guides and management to compete with off-island lodges are just a few.
"It's a great council," Kim says. "I'm really happy with the way things are working out. They ask a lot of questions and there's a lot of discussion. There are some pretty heated arguments, which is good too. It shows they care."
Kim's first foray into politics was around six years ago when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on council. Next, he challenged for chief councilor and lost. Last year he tried again and this time, finally, he won.
He was attracted to politics because he saw problems with the status quo and wanted to help his people.
"Coming from the outside, you could see things that weren't working."
With the unemployment rate in Old Massett hovering around 70 percent, one thing he really wants to see working is more Haidas.
"Some of the employment question will be resolved with the housing project (Bluejacket). Our economic development program is exploring watershed restoration, log salvage, and training and certification courses. Industry is also looking towards more aboriginal involvement." Naturally, when the talk turns to industry on Haida Gwaii it inevitably leads to MacMillan Bloedel. MB recently made some conciliatory moves towards the Haida, like contracting a consensus-builder, but don't look for a joint venture anytime soon.
"No, I don't think so. It was an effort on their part, but it didn't work out that well. There was a lot of discussion that went on, they were looking for something but it never materialized."
Kim thinks what MB really wanted was 'social licence' to carry on with operations. But even if the company sincerely wanted a deal, he feels now is not the time.
"The Haida are in a non-trusting frame of mind."
Forestry has long been a pet subject for Kim. Before band politics, he was involved with Haida Forestry for the CHN, and it was his concern for Haida Gwaii's forests which led him to join the Islands Community Stability Initiative and sit as an unofficial member for Old Massett while the village was boycotting the table.
"I believe in the process. That we should have a say in what goes on on the islands even though the province has a different view. I did a lot of listening. It was interesting to see how it evolved."
Today, Old Massett is officially at the ICSI table, and Kim is the chair. But a few things had to change before that happened.
"Fifty percent Haida representation has changed. I'm proud to belong to an organization that recognizes our right to participate equally with non-Haida communities."
It's now noon and everyone in the GMDC boardroom is ready for lunch. We set off for Pearl's where tables are strung together until they almost stretch across the entire restaurant. Bernice has joined us, and although the meeting is over, the conversation still centres on Old Massett's business and activities.
Vince Collison is transcribing 30-year old tapes from Victoria ethno-botanist Nancy Turner. Turner recorded elders from Skidegate and Old Massett, collecting large samples of both Haida dialects to preserve and study them. She returned the tapes to the Haida so that the information they contained could be saved and passed on before they deteriorated.
Kevin Brown, Cliff Fregin, and GMDC administrator Bob Behan are worked up over a proposal they are putting together to build a skating rink in Masset. They're exploring the idea of making the rink Olympic-sized because the only one in Canada is in Calgary and there are a scant few on the continent. The plan is they could overcome our remote location by providing access to a specialty facility, which isn't much more expensive to build. That way, teams and skaters which compete internationally could come here to train, spread dollars around the community, and help pay for the cost of maintaining the ice.
But the conversation isn't all business. There are jokes and stories about family, Rheault's presence evokes some tales of eastern Canadian experiences, and when the meal is over the Bank of Montreal picks up the bill for the works, myself included. Since I've dealt with the Bank of Montreal most of my life, I congratulate myself on managing to recoup a small portion of the money they've taken from me in that time. Although I wish I had ordered steak and drinks instead of my burger and pop.
On our way to the door, a Haida customer at one of the tables barks to Kim: "Thanks for having lunch!"
Trying not to laugh too hard, I ask him if he's bothered by the sarcasm.
"No," he replies, smiling. "All the councilors get ribbed. Humour is part of the Haida way."
Kim's house is, well, not exactly funny but like so many things in Old Massett these days, it's an ambitious work in progress. A huge two-story building on Eagle, just east of the village office, the first thing I notice walking up the drive is a modest fleet of small, seemingly-derelict cars. A Datsun 510 two-door sedan, a 210 relic, a crippled 710 wagon, and a couple of diesel Volkswagen Rabbits.
I recognize a couple of them, having seen Kim arrive noisily behind the wheel at meetings as far afield as Charlotte City, so I can't resist asking what the deal is with the little junkers.
"I've always fiddled around with cars," he explains. "There's quite a following behind the 510, with clubs in Vancouver and Victoria that race them. They're easy to work on, and all the drive train components last longer than the cars."
Delving deeper he tells me that the 510 has an 'independent rear-end,' meaning the rear wheels are powered by separate driveshafts stemming from the rear trans-axle. Kim tells me many Corvettes and Jaguars were built using the same system which, in addition to the available 300-horsepower turbocharged engines, is what makes the 510 special.
Looking at the little rusted yellow hulk of a 510 in Kim's driveway, I'm having trouble imagining it going anywhere, let alone around a racetrack. But he assures me it only needs a new head gasket before its back in action.
Kim and Bernice exist in the only finished part of the house - a modest apartment-sized section of the first floor. The rest of the place is more of a grand storage space. Mattresses, toys, furniture, clothes, paperwork, suitcases and bags of every description, windows and other building materials clutter up the living-room-to-be with the vaulted ceiling. The bottom drawer of a filing cabinet next to Kim is open, and hanging out of it is a blue striped necktie which he picks up and models for me. Bernice filed it away for the unlikely day when its thin cut comes back in style.
"There's a lot of junk in there, I keep forgetting to take out the garbage."
Construction on the house began ten years ago but Kim still needs to find the time and money to finish the place. "I copied it from a plan, but there were quite a few changes to it." He says it still needs insulation, drywall, a heating system, and some plumbing and wiring done before he and Bernice can really move in. "I pretty much built it all myself, with a lot of help from my cousin and a couple of other people."
After lunch its back to banking and the GMDC boardroom. An hour later, at two o'clock, I return Rheault to the floatplane and see her safely off, while Kim heads over to the green church to see the late Sidney Smith off on his final journey.
Once I've deposited the bank lady at the dock, I hustle to the church to catch the end of Sid's funeral service. It's a packed house for the eccentric and popular Masset fixture, and I'm content to stand at the back for want of a seat. Afterwards, on the ride to the northend's tranquil cemetery behind the pickup truck doubling for a hearse and bearing the deceased, Kim and Bernice tell me about how they got to know and appreciate Sid while tending to the Copper Beech House once when David Phillips was away traveling.
At the cemetery, a lone raven calls out over the hushed assembly as Peter Hamel recites last rites. Sid's softwood casket is lined with cedar boughs and smells wonderful, however he seems reluctant to embrace his final resting place as the pall bearers struggle to get him in the grave. It takes some persuasion, but eventually the casket is aligned in the proper position and lowered into the ground.
Guujaaw drums and sings in tribute, and the mourners cast dirt on the casket before filing away only to reunite in the basement of the green church for the reception where Kim and Bernice mingle with the crowd. People swap stories and fond remembrances of Sid and snack on finger-sandwiches, baked treats, and coffee until I persuade Kim that we need to leave for our photo shoot since the light of day is starting to fade.
Island people working together with what we have for our own good. This is what Kim really believes in and one way he thinks it can happen is by bringing control of our government and resources closer to home.
"I think we should have our own regional district and our own electoral district." Of course, any political organization on the islands has to have representation for Haida and non-Haida communities. "We just want things fair, that's all. It's been unfair too long."
Fair and equal government would also help put a stop to what he calls 'the raping of the Islands resources.'
"It's a sad thing because that's the way this country is run - get rid of everything, sell it off, and don't do anything more with it."
And that approach to resource use is one reason why he's behind ICSI's community forest project, even if he has some reservations about it.
"We're hoping it's going to go in the Tlell." But what the District Manager (of Forests) envisions and what the community envisions may be two different things, and even then, he's not entirely confident the community forest will materialize at all. "There's probably a reasonable chance that they won't even get the pilot project." It's also why Kim is firmly against any attempt by Husby to begin logging in Duu Guusd; one of the CHN's protected areas. "He's not going into Duu Guusd, that's for sure. How the government addresses that remains to be seen."
Although Kim's involvement with ICSI contributed to his interest and knowledge of forestry issues encompassing all of Haida Gwaii, his focus remains centred on his community's perspective and needs. And his bread and butter issues remain the same: "Employment and housing," the rest, he says, are more the responsibility of the CHN and hereditary leaders. "I still see us in the future as a municipal-type government." But he wouldn't be opposed to some changes in the way the Haida are governed as a people. "I'd like to see a system where there is representation for each clan," he says. "There would be more fair representation under a clan system than the current system. I'm hoping the two (CHN and hereditary) will blend."
Kim and Bernice Davidson ready for Sping.
It's picture time, and for the occasion I've asked Kim if we can use his Harley Davidson motorcycle as a prop. Because it's February and there's still snow on the ground, the bike isn't insured, it isn't at his house. It's in storage.
Mike McLeod, a local Harley fanatic, looks after Kim's
burgundy-cream-&-chrome, anniversary edition, Harley Davidson Road King Classic. When we pull into McLeod's driveway, Kim asks if we can haul the bike out of storage for a few photos. No problem and we unlock a shed containing Kim's bike and two other fine-pedigree steel horses.
"The bike was Bernice's idea," Kim says it all started when they decided to adopt a baby. "Her sister phoned and says she's pregnant and wants to give the baby to us."
Kim and Bernice started saving money for the new arrival. They also started going over names for the child, and one that stood out came from Bernice's nephew who suggested Harley. When the time came, Bernice went down to Port Alberni to look after the adoption. But once her sister laid eyes on her brand-new baby boy she found she couldn't part with it and Bernice returned home empty-handed. It was on the trip back that she decided they would have their own Harley anyway.
McLeod swings the shed doors open, Kim straddles the Hog and puts the key in the ignition. It's pretty chilly out and the machine doesn't fire up right away, but after turning over a few times it catches, the engine emits Harley Davidson's trademark rumble, and Kim rolls it out into the snow.
Bernice hops on behind Kim and circles her arms around his waist. I remember her telling me that when they ride she's always hollering at him to go faster, faster. Kim cranks the throttle but never as far as she'd like - he just isn't a reckless man.
I shoot more than a dozen pictures in the evening light. Then after revving the bike a little more, remembering the rush of the road, it goes back in the shed until spring. ·
SpruceRoots Magazine - April, 1999