This profile was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2016 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
If there’s a common thread woven through Steve Hunter’s life, it’s a passion for community involvement—a passion that catalyzed his decision to return to his hometown of Powell River to pursue a career and raise a family.
“It’s a beautiful town,” says Steve, “with a community that looks out for one another.”
His commitment to serving this tight-knit community is what inspired him to tackle two challenging jobs simultaneously: a full-time position as CFO of Sliammon First Nation and a part-time position as community coroner.
Steve first joined Sliammon First Nation as executive director of Sliammon Health in 2012, after almost 12 years with Catalyst Paper, where he’d served as a controller and property manager. His subsequent success in helping Sliammon Health emerge from a difficult period soon led to his appointment as CFO in 2013. But while Steve’s promotion was swift, the process of building trust was more arduous.
“I didn’t know much about the Coast Salish and Sliammon culture when I first came to work here,” he says. “My biggest challenge as an outsider coming in and holding a position of authority was gaining the trust of community members. It has taken three years and the successes of the nation, along with my approach of accountability and transparency, to do so.”
Among these successes was a turnaround in financial reporting.
“There’d been a revolving door of CFOs for about five years prior to my arrival, so when I came on board, we were a year behind in filing our audits and annual reports, and had a high-risk rating with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada,” he explains. “Now, we’re 100% compliant and have a low-risk rating. All the finance staff have been proactive. They’re instrumental to this success.”
Another notable success is Sliammon’s imminent entry into the treaty world.
“Self-government has been a huge undertaking by many over the past 20 years,” says Steve. “I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a working group that has been busy developing laws, and these laws will come into effect on April 5, 2016, when Sliammon becomes Tla’amin Nation. It has been extremely rewarding to gain the confidence of staff and elected officials by helping to move the nation forward in this way.”
Given the scope of this work, it’s hard to believe that Steve has had a second job as a community coroner since 2014. But he describes this role, which requires him to investigate unexpected deaths, as “an opportunity to serve the community in which I live.”
Steve is one of approximately 75 community coroners in BC. Unlike the province’s 32 full-time coroners, community coroners work on-call and do not perform autopsies. The preferred background is experience in the legal, medical, or investigative fields, which makes the role seem tailor-made for Steve’s skill-set, given that he worked and volunteered with the Canadian Coast Guard prior to joining Catalyst in 2001. But he says it was the senior management experience he gained at Catalyst that really prepared him for the job.
“As a senior manager at the paper mill, I was always investigating,” explains Steve. “Compassion and the ability to deal with trauma are key to the role of community coroner, but the investigative process is probably the most important aspect of the job.”
So how does the married father of four manage to juggle this role with his full-time work and his personal life?
“Thankfully, the case load in Powell River isn’t that heavy,” says Steve. “But it does take a co-ordinated effort from my family, because they’re essentially on call with me. And I wouldn’t be able to perform the role without the support of Sliammon, as they’re willing to release me if a call comes in during working hours. It’s truly a community engagement!”