In central British Columbia, the Hagwilget village sits 300 feet above a long-exploded rock in the Bulkley River. For generations, the rock stood where the waters constricted to create a basin where salmon gathered in plenty, creating a community where generations of interior and coastal peoples could meet to fish, trade and interact. 

In 1959, the Department of Fisheries blasted several of the river’s boulders to increase salmon traffic to commercial fisheries. “Everything was gone. There was nothing left. No work, no fish, nothing. We were devastated. We lost our identity,” says Hagwilget Councillor and elder Peggy Underhill.

Fifty years later, after two decades of legal battles seeking compensation for the destruction, the Federal Government settled with the Hagwilget Village. Proceeds from the settlement would be placed in a trust to fund the community’s projects and future goals.

“When the settlement came I was so happy,” Chief Dora Wilson of the Hagwilget Village recalls. “Then we started working on the trust agreement. There were a lot of things we’ve been wanting to do for this village, and I said that is what the purpose is going to be for this money.” 

RBC Wealth Management and its Aboriginal Trust Services group would soon enter the picture to work collaboratively with the Village Trustees when engaging with the Hagwilget Council and to implement their trust. 

With over 20 years of experience assisting Aboriginal communities, the group of experienced trust professionals is dedicated exclusively to working with Aboriginal clients. Working with key members of the communities they serve, community trustees and chief and council, they help to address the challenges that can affect the administration of their trusts. In the mid-1990s, RBC  was the first trust company to create a dedicated Aboriginal Trust Group that could give communities the tools they needed for their future planning.

“Every trust agreement is unique,” says Gordon Larin, Regional Vice President of Aboriginal Trust Services at RBC Wealth Management.

“In this situation, the capital is protected, and any income that’s earned from that capital then is available to provide for the community projects.” 

Leanne Kaufman, Head of Estate and Trust Services with RBC Wealth Management, says that education is a key part of the group’s work when building a trust for a community. 

“We’re often asked to help educate, whether it’s the chief and council, co-trustees or community members, on what this trust is all about. As part of our value proposition, we will come to communities, explain and provide updates on the uses of the income and capital and how the investment has performed. It’s a constant and ongoing education.”

Today, Gordon likens the Hagwilget village trust to the exploded rock that helped protect and ensure ongoing income to the community.

“The trust can never replace that rock fully, but the trust must be protected and safeguarded much like that rock needed to be protected and safeguarded.”

The trust now funds ongoing and special projects that have been approved by the community to transform the village and impact peoples’ lives in a positive way: restoring and rebuilding the unused church and cultural centre; providing education, cultural preservation and language classes; updating plumbing; supplying fish and building new smokehouses; and securing supplemental health benefits.

“There’s a different atmosphere in the village now,” says Dora. “I’ve always been hopeful, but now we know that it’s actually happening.”