Made on Haida Gwaii: Evan Putterill leads with passion for environmental issues

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Evan Putterill speaks at the legislature in Victoria as part of a celebration of the Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act.

This is the second installment of the 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. Each week we showcase the story of a talented young person who calls Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada’s North.

Environmental issues played a central role in Evan Putterill's upbringing. While growing up in Sandspit, Evan's family was involved in the political dialogue surrounding the creation of Gwaii Haanas, which was a controversial issue for Sandspit residents at the time.

Passionate about the environment and motivated to do the right thing, Evan ran for political office and was successfully elected to the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District in 2009.

His focus is on long-term sustainability and co-operation. "I ran in order to prevent a return to the old, unsustainable and divisive way of doing things that Sandspit experienced for many years," he says. Evan explains that he believes the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.

At 25 years old, Evan is already fully immersed in island and regional politics, serving as the Misty Isles Economic Development chair, Moresby Island Management Committee chair, Sandspit Harbour Society director, Vancouver Island Regional Library Board trustee, Northwest Regional Hospital Board director, the Regional District's BC Ferries representative and the local government representative on the Haida Reconciliation Table. Despite this robust list of political engagements, politics isn't Evan's full time job: he also works at the Sandspit Airport.

Political engagement started early, as is clear when he reminisces about his time at Queen Charlotte Secondary School. "I was on student council, even their president for a year and always interested in politics, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do," he explains.

Finding Mr. Puls' high school geography class inspirational, he enrolled in Camosun College, obtaining an Associate Degree in Geography: "It made sense, the study of the people, environment and how they interact with one another." Later Evan attended the University of Victoria, graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Geography and minor in Public Administration. 

While his education and experience has offered many opportunities for off island employment, Evan is committed to working on Haida Gwaii and continuing with local community development, "It is very rewarding getting things done for your community."

Since being elected, Evan has learned many lessons, including that "most things don't happen quickly in politics - they come together slowly." Although fortunate to learn from his colleagues, Evan doesn't aspire to be like any particular politician. "I want to be myself," he concludes.

An advocate for collaboration and envisioning the long-term, Evan's motivation to serve the public is refreshing. He talks passionately about the need for political processes to become more cooperative and inclusive, "I'm of the view that the fractured nature of political institutions on island is structurally incompatible with meaningful and cooperative governance that brings together all communities." Echoing the informal conversations that have been taking place, Evan notes, "People are coming to realize that we need to break free from the silos which inform our politics and develop a more organic regional government on island."

Cautiously optimistic, Evan acknowledges the need to consider future generations during decision-making processes: "I think we should be doing more long-term planning and have a vision for the next 100 years; unfortunately, our communities are in economic crisis - we have to focus on that first."

Demonstrating how issues trump age, Evan says that his status as a young professional hasn't been an issue during his time in local government. "Most board members will want to debate ideas and merits," although he concedes there has been the odd time when "I'm three times your age" has been the opening salvo in a political disagreement. 

April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North.

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