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Bob Anderson, GLIA Steering Committee member, submitted the following article.

The Great Lakes Islands Alliance (GLIA) is a voluntary, collaborative network that brings together island leaders, residents, and advocates from across the region. The mission of the GLIA is to “encourage relationship building, foster information exchange, and leverage resources to address shared challenges and embrace opportunities to benefit islands.”

The 3rd annual Summit took place on October 21-22, 2019 on Mackinac Island. 110 residents of fourteen different Great Lakes islands attended, plus additional partners from multiple Great Lakes mainland organizations plus several from outside the region, notably the Rockland, Maine-based Island Institute and the Maine Islands Coalition, a multi-island partnership comparable to GLIA. Beaver Island was well-represented, with nineteen attendees from many aspects of island public and private activities. A list those attendees is at the end of the article.

Most attendees arrived on Sunday for check-in and registration and a group dinner where we were welcomed by Mayor Margaret Doud of The City of Mackinac Island. Mission Point Resort provided the summit meals, meetings and lodging.

Monday was largely dedicated to GLIA business and information sharing on topics directly relevant to the host island. The morning session was used to orient attendees to the event and to the GLIA. It was estimated that one-third of the attendees were either new to GLIA or attending their first Summit. The remaining Day 1 agenda focused on the host island. The audience heard from two major Mackinac Island entities. First, members of the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians provided an introduction to their tribe, a traditional smudging ceremony, and a discussion of their long history with the island as well as their contemporary roles in the region. Next, the director of Mackinac State Historic Parks outlined the European history and more recent evolution of the island community, leading up to the current focus on tourism and designation as a state park (comprising over 80 percent of the island).

Attendees then split up to attend one of five breakout sessions. A second series of breakouts was held after lunch. These sessions highlighted topics that were particularly relevant to Mackinac Island: tourism, housing, medical care, schools, infrastructure, fire/police, community foundations, and recycling. Each session was led by a local expert and included an audience question and answer period. The last group activity was hearing about the Mackinac Island Master Plan, including its development, content, and purpose. This is a significant resource for the host community. Not all of the GLIA communities have island-wide master plans. (Beaver island has two—one for each township). The afternoon was finished with guided field trips to key island sites: the water treatment plant, the Butterfly House, and Fort Mackinac. These sites were specific examples to drive home discussions on infrastructure, environmental conservation, and historical preservation.

In the evening, a group dinner provided additional networking, followed by a wine and beer tasting, (including beverages from our own Whiskey Point Brewery), art exhibition, and multi-media performance by the Mackinac Island Art Council. The lively performance included singing, acting and a movie by community members, including several students.

Day 2 took a full GLIA network (14-island) perspective. The morning began with an environmental talk by Mr. Eric Ellis, a project manager at the Great Lakes Commission. Eric discussed the many unique natural resources and environmental attributes of islands and provided some example case studies of restoration projects on islands. Citing the current lack of regional coordination specifically around Great Lakes islands conservation, Eric was excited to work with GLIA as it continues to grow as a regional player.

Eric’s talk helped set the stage for the next topic. Dr. Brandon Hofstedt, Director of the Center for Rural Communities at Northland College, introduced a major next step for GLIA. As background, in July 2019 Northland College was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to address several key needs for GLIA. The grant was guided by the vision for this 18-month project to establish the GLIA as an influential actor in the region via a coordinated policy and communications approach and supported through a new organizational identity with three broad goals covering policy influence, communications, and institutional stability and incorporation. Northland College elected to contract out the project tasks, however it will maintain oversight and will be assisted by a project advisory team consisting of the five-member GLIA Steering Committee and key partners: Matt Preisser; Kate Tagai with the Island Institute; and Jon Allan, with Jon W. Allan Group, LLC.

Dr. Hofstedt then introduced Ms. Lisa Brush, Executive Director of The Stewardship Network (TSN), the organization selected to lead Mott project. TSN is a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan which supports environmental stewardship by connecting and mobilizing people and organizations. Lisa discussed her organization and its experience bringing together diverse organizations and facilitating complex conversations. To better understand the GLIA – specifically its membership and self-identified characteristics, the full group participated in an interactive exercise using live polling. Using their cell phones, attendees were asked to text responses to a dedicated number and real-time group responses were displayed. As examples, they were asked “What is one word to describe an Islander?” and “What do you bring to GLIA?” The diversity of responses was interesting and informative.

Next was a new round of breakout sessions. Unlike the Day 1 breakouts, which focused on the host island perspective/experience and were intended to provide ideas/contacts for members to take back to their individual communities (and use as they see fit), the Day 2 breakouts were positioned as potential longer-term, multi-island projects that the full GLIA network could undertake. The breakout topics were all identified by one or more GLIA islanders and they were at different stages of development. The hope and expectation was that GLIA could help serve as an “incubator” of islander ideas – provide the start-up structure and space for early concept development – and ultimately the management could be run by islanders or other organizations with mission, experience and capacity to do so. The GLIA project concepts and lead islander(s) are as follows:

  • Joe Scarry (Madeline Island, WI): Joe was interested in developing a “One Book, One GLIA” idea which would be a community reading program involving the libraries or other organizations on each of island. Through a shared reading experience, the islands could find commonalities.
  • Rachel Bauman (Madeline Island, WI): Rachel was interested in exploring the outsized roles that faith-based organizations play in these small rural communities. By one informal count, there are approximately 41 entities (churches) spread across the GLIA islands.
  • Peter Huston (South Bass Island, OH) and Angel Welke (Beaver Island, MI): Peter and Angel wanted to continue a discussion started at the last Summit about creating an “islands passport,” or similar tourism marketing tool.
  • Joe Shorthouse (Manitoulin Island, ON): Joe was interested in connecting environmental conservation activities on islands by fostering citizen science; he offered monarch conservation as an example.
  • Stephanie Fortino (Mackinac Island, MI) and Kevin Boyle (Beaver Island, MI): Stephanie and Kevin were interested in bringing together the island media organizations and potentially form a “Great Lakes Islands Media Network.”
  • Wil Cwikiel (Beaver Island, MI) and Steve Poe (South Bass Island, OH): Both superintendent principals, Wil and Steve collected some baseline information from all the Great Lakes island schools (sent as an electronic survey prior to the Summit), presented those initial results, and held a discussion about how to support island schools.

Each breakout was repeated after lunch, and a full group report-out session was used to share the discussions and next steps for each breakout.

A final session then formally closed out the business portion of the 2019 Summit. The five-member GLIA Steering Committee, who started approximately one year ago at the 2018 Summit, were all reappointed for a second year. The outgoing Summit host team (Mackinac Island) was recognized one last time and they “passed the baton” (or in this case, a note inside a bottle) to the next Summit team. The 2020 Summit team, led by a single representative from each of the four major Lake Erie islands, promised another unique experience in fall 2020, hinting at a progressive-style event involving all four island communities. Members were asked to save the tentative dates for the 2020 Great Lakes Islands Summit: October 4-7, 2020. Similar to the late afternoon of Day 1, the second day offered three additional field trips to local sites: several community organizations (library, school, Stuart House Museum); health & welfare organizations (medical center, fire department and police department); and significant infrastructure facilities (solid waste handling facility, airport, and wastewater treatment plant).

Overall, the summit was a great experience and opportunity to share and learn. It was quite a contrast to compare our Beaver Island tourism activity to the challenge of Mackinac Island accommodating 22,000 tourists in a single day with all restaurant, store and lodging staffing, supplies, rubbish and recycle handled totally by horse drawn drays and carriages!

Beaver Island summit attendees were: Alana & Bob Anderson, Judy & Kevin Boyle, Wil Cwikiel, Mary Delamater, Pam Grassmick, Dana & Eric Hodgson, Angel & Paul Welke, Ken McDonald, Patrick McGinnity, Kitty McNamara, Dick Mulvihill, Sheri Richards, Kris Ries, Sheryll Russell and Lori Taylor-Blitz. Paul Cole was registered but unable to attend due to illness.

A complete official report of the GLIA summit will be linked to the BIA website when it is finalized by the Steering Committee. Submitted by Bob Anderson, GLIA Steering Committee member