Chemainus businessman Chris Istace, a BC Green Party candidate in Nanaimo-North Cowichan for the Oct. 24 provincial election, is apologizing for referring to First Nations gaming grants as “handouts” during a Gabriola Island virtual all-candidates debate.
“I unreservedly apologize for using the term handouts and the harm it has caused,” Istace noted in a statement. “I apologized immediately when I realized I had made a mistake and I have learned from this experience. I will do better.
“I do not think that revenue sharing is a ‘handout.’ First Nations deserve that money and far more.”
During the debate, the question was raised of how to handle situations where energy projects like TMX, LNG and Site C have been primarily opposed by First Nations communities, but somewhat supported. Istace answered there’s a need to act on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) and provide First Nations the tools to gain economic sovereignty rather than projects imposed by coercive means.
Doug Routley spoke about the seven per cent of gaming revenue the NDP government (supported by the Greens) agreed to share with First Nations for the next 23 years.
When offered a chance to rebut, Istace indicated he stands by the need to let First Nations govern themselves and have true economic independence and a system handing over money wasn’t solving the root of the problem. He used the word ‘handout’ when referring to the program, and Routley said the gaming revenue wasn’t a ‘handout’ and he believed sharing the gaming revenue was enough for First Nations to build economic independence.
“The comment I made was meant to call out the token efforts of the BC NDP in reconciliation, not to belittle the struggles and strengths of First Nations,” elaborated Istace. “Pretending seven per cent gaming revenue shares from profits made on stolen land is enough in light of all the damage and intergenerational trauma colonialism has and continues to put them through shows a lack of understanding of the depths of that damage.
“In addition to the gaming revenue, the provincial government should be working collaboratively with First Nations to develop sustainable economic projects that will help build local economies,” Istace added. “The way the NDP have treated reconciliation is similar in my eyes to the promise of a one time $1,000 cheque to all voters. Absolutely, this money will help people. But it won’t fix the problem of systemic inequality.”
He went on to say allowing RCMP to point sniper rifles at unarmed land defenders immediately after passing DRIPA can’t be fixed with money and refusing to negotiate with the Wet’suwet’en until billions of dollars was lost in trade and the entire fight became an international issue is not reconciliation.
“I care deeply about solving these issues,” Istace indicated. “I do not think that words and money are enough. We need collaborative, systemic solutions to the systemic inequities faced by First Nations.
“If I have made further mistakes in my thinking and communicating about reconciliation, I am here to listen and learn. I will not shy away from any personal contact on this matter. I am determined to do better.”