Victoria council floats voluntary option for property owners to donate to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations

Victoria council floats voluntary option for property owners to donate to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations
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Do you want to decolonize your backyard? It’s a question the City of Victoria may be asking its property owners for the first time.

“Subject to council’s decision next week, when people get their property tax bill they’ll also get an enclosure saying here’s what the city is doing with reconciliation, here’s the principle of reciprocity, would you like to donate 5 or 10 per cent of your property tax amount or another amount to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in the spirit of reconciliation?” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Victoria’s mayor and councillors Marianne Alto, Sarah Potts, and Jeremy Loveday are pitching a new program to let Victorians make a voluntary donation to the Songhees First Nation.

Helps says the discovery of what are believed to be about 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. was a wake-up call for many residents.

“Last summer I literally had people crying, non-Indigenous people crying in grief, asking what can I do?” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

The city is only temporarily managing the funds for the Songhees First Nation until a new company called Reciprocity Trusts gets off the ground.

“The need for something to connect private property to Indigenous communities where we live and work has been needed for a really really long time,” said Craig Candler, founder of Reciprocity Trusts.

The company hopes to act as the administrative body of trusts for a variety of First Nations across British Columbia. The South Island is their first trial project.

“Once Reciprocity Trusts is set up, dollars will go into the south island reciprocity trust,” said Candler. “It will be Indigenous-owned and controlled. Reciprocity will support with administration, and communities will be able to receive dollars to support community priorities.”

Candler says it’s a small way that Victorians could contribute to things like language revitalization, housing, education to the nations on whose territory they own land.

Reciprocity trusts say they already have 750 households wanting to participate, 250 here on the South Island.

“It is encouraging that some Victoria homeowners have expressed a desire to voluntarily contribute a part of their property taxes to Songhees Nation, as a meaningful and tangible step towards reconciliation. We hope that this sets a precedent for other cities and municipalities to follow suit,” said Katherine Lagrange, executive director with the Songhees Nation.

But why is the City of Victoria and Reciprocity Trusts mainly targeting property owners?

“Renters don’t benefit from an increase in property values,” said Candler. “There’s a recommended reciprocity payment. It’s based on about 12 per cent of the property taxes that property pays in a given year. For the average house in Victoria, it’s about 500 dollars a year.”

For renters, it’s a smaller portion. You can sign up here.

The motion comes forward to City Council’s vote this coming Thursday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that hundreds of children’s bodies were discovered in unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. The Tk’emlĂşps te SecwĂ©pemc First Nation has recently clarified that ground-penetrating radar has discovered 200 potential burial sites. 

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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