Share and share alike?

They tried reasoning with the government. They tried shaming the government. They even tried threatening the government. But, in the end, the province hasn't proven willing to give First Nations a share of British Columbia's "windfall gaming profits." Records exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information show indigenous leaders have been lobbying for such a share since at least 2007. That's when they presented then aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister Mike de Jong and his deputy with their "BC First Nations Investment Plan."

It suggested allocating three percent of the province's gross gaming revenues toward economic and community development initiatives in aboriginal communities - which would have worked out to $75.52 million in fiscal 2009/10.

Acting on the plan was described as the "single most important" thing the Campbell administration could do to "immediately ease First Nations poverty and begin to close the economic and social gap for all First Nations in the Province."

But indigenous leaders weren't just counting on carrots to convince the Campbell administration to give them a piece of its gaming action.

Among the sticks used:

* noting "British Columbia is one of the only major provinces in Canada in which First Nations" do not share in gaming revenues, something the plan stated was "unsettling, unfair and unjust;"

* pointing out, even though an "estimated 20-30 per cent of patrons at bingo calls, community gaming centres and casinos" are aboriginal, in 2006 "only a small fraction of one percent of all gaming monies is granted to First Nations communities;" and

* warning the "lack of economic opportunity, faltering infrastructure, and abysmal record of childhood poverty on First Nations reserve communities could well be a black mark against the BC Government in terms of International public opinion" during the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

But members of the Campbell administration, including the premier himself, appear to have given non-answers in response to the investment plan - which has been endorsed by the province's four major aboriginal groups.

A typical example: on February 12, 2008, Judith Sayers - who was then the elected chief of the Hupacasath First Nation - wrote to the solicitor general on behalf of the aboriginal team attempting to negotiate a gaming revenue sharing agreement with the province.

In that letter, she thanked him for meeting with the team two months earlier. But she reminded John Les, "At the close of our meeting, you stated that 'we deserved answers' to the concerns we had raised regarding the lack of response to our proposal so far...Now that the holiday season is past, we are wondering how these discussions have progressed."

After all, as "one of our Chiefs, Chief Wayne Christian, at a forum on the Chiefs of the Child at the Centre asked 'why is it the Vancouver Canucks can sharing (sic) in Gaming Revenues, yet the first people of this land cannot?'

Two months later, she finally got this response from Mr. Les's successor John van Dongen.

"Government is a aware of issues related to First Nations economic development and committed to further dialogue with the Leadership Council," he stated.

"I can also assure you of my personal commitment to appropriate First Nations economic development opportunities and ongoing discussion within the framework of the New Relationship."

Those "appropriate" opportunities include, according to a government information note, sharing "resources revenues from developments on Crown land" - something that doesn't happen in other provinces such as Alberta.

But this back-story helps explain why, this past June, the president of the BC First Nations Gaming Revenue-Sharing Initiative, announced the aboriginal community was done talking and would now be looking into setting up its own gaming facilities.

"There hasn't been any indication of the government being prepared to move in this regard," Chief Joe Hall said in an interview with The Globe and Mail's Justine Hunter. "It's been long enough, time is up."

BC First Nations Investment Plan records

1 Comment

Great journalism Sean. In Washington State, it's the Native Americans/First Nations that do most of the gambling and former US President Ronald Reagan who gave them parity w/ state gambling facilities & laws w/ the Indian Gaming Act.

Also I'm sure MCFD Min Mary Polak ought to chime in on this. Her Ministry could sure use the money to help care for Aboriginal Children - a dear priority to her.

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