City of Victoria mulls providing local First Nations with yearly grant, seeks public input

WatchCouncil is taking steps to provide the region's Songhees Nation and Esquimalt First Nation with a yearly grant, funded by City of Victoria tax revenue from new construction. Kevin Charach has more.

Victoria city councillors are taking steps to provide the region’s Songhees Nation and Esquimalt First Nation with a yearly grant.

The proposed grant would see the Songhees Nation and Esquimalt First Nation receive about 15 per cent of the revenue the City of Victoria’s from new construction annually.

The two Indigenous communities could use the money for essentially whatever they want and based on revenue for 2022, that 15 per cent would amount to around $120,000 next year — although the amount is expected to rise over the years.

“Fifteen per cent of that would be given to the nations without any type of restrictions for their use,” said Vi Marianne Alto. “As the city grows and succeeds, so should the nations.”

The idea was developed by a group calling themselves “City Family” which is made up of Indigenous peoples both from the region and outside the province, along with members of city council.

Alto, who is a member of the group, says the purpose behind the proposal is to take greater strides towards reconciliation.

“It’s a time when more and more people are beginning to understand our collective responsibility in more than just words,” said Alto, who says other municipalities across the country are considering similar grants but Victoria is the first she’s aware of to move forward.

However, not everyone is supportive of the proposal.

“I can’t support it in principle,” said Geoff Young, the lone city councillor to oppose the proposal. He supports reconciliation but believes the burden for cash and land transfers should be on the provincial and federal government, not the City of Victoria.

“I don’t think that the city of Victoria’s taxpayers should bear those costs,” said Young via Zoom. “I think those costs are properly born all across the province and even across the country.”

Florence Dick, who is both a member of the Songhees Nation and City Family, says the funding will help with issues such as infrastructure and housing.

“When they moved us here in 1911 we lost all our resources and all our main sources of food,” said Dick. “So, I really see this as a huge step to reconciliation.”

She hopes other cities in the region follow Victoria’s lead.

The City of Victoria will be holding a virtual town hall on Nov. 17. where residents can weigh in on the proposal. Nothing in the budget is final until the new year.

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Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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