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LAX KW’ALAAMS, B.C.—Out of sight on the rainforest’s edge, just south of Alaska, the people of this ancient fishing village couldn’t wait any longer for rescue.
Outsiders who flew in by float plane or landed at the ferry dock, 20 minutes away along a pot-holed road in Tuck Inlet, brought federal money and stacks of government rule books telling the Tsimshian band how to spend it.
Yet the community was drowning in debt. Leaning on Ottawa’s creaky native bureaucracy for support, it was a life-or-death struggle for Lax Kw’alaams’ people to hold their heads high enough to survive. They didn’t have the experts they needed to save themselves.
So chief councillor Garry Reece and his council looked outside for a new band administrator, eager to get someone who could find profit in the big water and trees that surround them.
A name on the shortlist was Wayne Drury, who answered an ad in a Vancouver newspaper. Not Reece’s first choice, but council members brought him around.
In an open-neck business shirt over a white undershirt, his balding pate fringed with grey hair, Drury is built low to the ground. He looks like a retired wrestler with a few good moves left in him.
He knows how to work an audience, punctuating important points with a loud slap that ends with one hand high in the air, like a WWE titan’s manager leading a beatdown at the turnbuckle. The former logger has a flair for persuasion.
You learn quickly how to dig in your heels, to stand tough against giants that can crush you like a bug, when you’re a hook tender on a steep mountainside hauling out 2,700-kilogram trees, four at a time.
Drury took the logging job the minute he was allowed to, on his 17th birthday. He saved from his wages for university tuition, earning degrees in forestry management and commerce.
High up in B.C.’s mountains, where misreading the intentions of a massive tree can get you killed before a second thought, Drury was getting good training for bare-knuckles business dealing in China.
After serving almost four years as chief executive officer of a Canadian-owned firm in Chile, Drury figured he’d gone as far as he could in forestry. The Lax Kw’alaams’ employment ad caught his eye in 1999.
He accepted the band administrator’s job on a Thursday, with a vague sense “that they had financial challenges and a desire to build something for the community,” and stepped off a float plane at the dock three days later.
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