British Columbia allocates $100 million to First Nations


British Columbian First Nations are applauding the provincial government
for its announcement of $100 million in allocations to a new "First Nations
New Relationship Fund." Although it is unclear what those monies will be
used for at this point, leaders are encouraged to see funding attached to
the New Relationship document signed earlier this year.

According to a press release from the Minister of Finance, the money
"advances the government's commitment to build a stronger relationship with
First Nations by allocating $100 million to a First Nations New
Relationship Fund. This fund will support initiatives to assist First
Nations communities to be effective partners in consultations concerning
the use of land and resources." This money will reportedly be targeted
towards better preparing First Nations for treaty negotiations by training
Aboriginal experts in forestry, mining and land-use planning.

"This funding means the words in the New Relationship document have a
financial start," said Assembly of First Nations British Columbia Chief
Shawn Atleo. "The money is a beginning, and with it communities can develop
capacity towards their own well-being and self-government through treaty,"
he said.

Atleo credits the new relationship agreement between the Assembly of First
Nations, British Columbia First Nations Summit and the Union of British
Columbian Indian Chiefs as the catalysts for the New Relationship document
and funding.

"With the new leadership agreement bringing the UBCIC, First Nations Summit
and AFN together, we have become a formidable force and the provincial
government quickly took notice of our powerful voice," said Atleo, who was
invited into the Legislative Assembly to witness the presentation of the
budget along with a few other First Nations leaders.

Even Chief Stewart Phillip of the often-militant UBCIC was pleased after
the announcement.

"As you know, four years ago we were burning ballots, and we took great
issue with the referendum," Phillip told the Victoria-based Times-Colonist
newspaper. "But I think that was four years ago. That was then, this is
now. We have new opportunities in front of us," he said.

"It's a good step, but I'm guardedly optimistic," said Scott Fraser,
opposition critic for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and
Reconciliation. "There's still a lack of clarity around what this money
will be going towards, so there's not much meat on the bones at this
point," he said. "First Nations deserve the support of this government,
given the devastating effects provincial policies have had on First Nations
over the past four years of their governing. Their cuts to transition
homes, social assistance, child protection programs, Native court workers
and a litany of other cuts have led to Fourth World conditions for our
first peoples. I hope they are finally willing to make amends, and I'll be
working hard with the First Nations of this province to make sure the
government lives up to the promises made in the New Relationship document."

"The bottom line is that the money won't flow until March of next year, so
we have time to develop the best approaches on how to spend this money most
efficiently and effectively," said Atleo. "We don't want this money going
to lawyers and consultants. The province knows every First Nation is
concerned about capacity development in the negotiations process,
particularly around resource and social issues. We need to facilitate a
discussion between First Nations and the government that gives us a say on
where this money goes," he said.