Province promises $100 Million to BC’s First Nations; FN Leaders discuss priorities at New Relationship Trust Meeting

Ha-Shilth-Sa, September 21, 2006

Shawn Atleo delivers an overview of the making of the New Relationship Trust.

Port Alberni — 

Approximately 40 people arrived at Maht Mahs September 12th to express their thoughts on how the province’s $100 million New Relationship fund should be spent in order to improve the lives of BC’s First Nations peoples.

Jacob Beaton, a consultant working with the Trust, gave an overview of what the New Relationship Trust is and what the goals and objectives of the trust are. The New Relationship Trust, he said, was established to address the most critical issues faced by first Nations people in BC; issues like loss of culture and language, education, poverty, employment, health, and access to land/resources.

According to the New Relationship Trust Progress Report; when the newly-elected Harper Government took power they tabled their first budget which did not include provisions for the previous governments’ commitment to the Kelowna Accord.

On May 4th, 2006 First Nations Leadership Council  members joined Premier Gordon Campbell in the legislature to support his statement urging Ottawa to live up to the commitments; a $5 billion commitment to improve the lives of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples made by the previous federal government.

In his speech at the House BC Premier Campbell had this to say, “The future of First Nations as a true partner in Canada, with constitutionally protected rights and title, warrants a fundamental rethinking of confederation…I characterized that agreement as Canada’s moment of truth. It was our time to do something that has eluded our nation for 138 years. It was our chance to end the disparities in health, education, housing and economic opportunity.”

In March 2005, the Province began meetings with representatives of the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations to develop new approaches for consultation and accommodation and a vision for a New Relationship to deal with Aboriginal concerns based on openness, transparency and collaboration – one that reduces uncertainty, litigation and conflict for all.

For more information about the New Relationship please see the sidebar on page 5 called “A New Relationship”.

Established last spring, the New Relationship Trust is currently in a planning phase, and is seeking input from the community. That input will be used to create the first Strategic Plan, including details about how the Trust’s $100 million fund will be used and managed.

Beaton said, “By listening first, allowing all people to have a chance to speak, and keeping the process open and transparent we are hoping the Strategic Plan will truly reflect the values and needs of the people the Trust is meant to serve.”

Nelson Keitlah, after introducing himself, reminded people of the need to remain respectful of one another. “The needs of our communities,” he said, “are many but what’s most important is our relationship with one another.”

Chief Ralph Dick of Cape Mudge said his people agree that because the fund is intended for the benefit of future generations, it should be ‘stay together’ and be invested.

Alberta Billy, elected elder representative of Cape Mudge agreed with Dick saying the $100 million fund for all First Nations people of British Columbia is not that large and would be spent quickly if care is not taken on how it should be used. She asked that the people make culture and language a priority.

It was reported there are 203 First Nations in the province and if each were to take an equal portion of the fund they would only get $500,000; not enough to cover all of the critical issues faced by Aboriginal people. Jacob agreed, saying the fund cannot cover everything and First Nations must prioritize their needs.

A Coast Salish woman cautioned the people about trying to take on too many projects with the fund. While she agrees that the fund must be handled with caution she sees a need for multi-year funding sources. Some projects require 2 – 5 years of committed funding but most funding agencies do not allow for this.

NTC President Frank raised the issues of poverty and addictions the communities continue to face today. He pointed out the many First Nations people living in urban areas that are homeless and may have no sense of identity or belonging. Sixty percent of our people, he said, live away from home and we need to get some resources to them.

Keith Atleo, Ahousaht Chief Councilor, said it is good that we can all be here not fighting over the money, but talking about ways to work together as one and making the most of the fund for all of our people. He spoke of the importance of keeping the culture and language alive for future generations and agreed the best way to make the fund last is to invest it.

Corfield said she’s excited about what this New Relationship initiative means. It is an acknowledgement of First Nations rights and title and it also marks the first time the three leading BC First Nations political organizations have worked together for in the best interests of First Nations people and communities of British Columbia.

Les Sam says Tseshaht has had a trust for 40 years and it still exists. Tseshaht’s priorities, he says, are language preservation, education and capacity building.

Beaton handed out surveys seeking opinions about how the fund should be used. He recorded all the comments made and promised to incorporate them into a report.

“It is important,” he reminded the people, “that as many First Nations people as possible complete a survey.” Copies are available online at www.newrelationshiptrust.ca

 For those who don’t have access to the internet but want to fill out a survey, call toll free 1-877-922-3338. The deadline for surveys is September 27th.

By Denise August