VANCOUVER — British Columbia First Nations that have been affected by the pandemic and last year’s wildfires and flooding will receive $74 million in grant money to make up for the loss of shared gaming revenues, the province announced Thursday.
A joint news release from the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and the B.C. First Nations Gaming Revenue Limited Partnership said 2020-21 revenues were about 80 per cent lower than anticipated due to public health measures related to the pandemic.
The one-time $74-million grant will mitigate the loss of revenues that are crucial to supporting First Nations in funding social services, education, infrastructure, cultural initiatives and economic development, it said.
B.C. reached a 25-year revenue-sharing agreement with First Nations in 2018, with a commitment to share seven per cent of annual net revenues from gaming with Indigenous communities through 2045.
First Nations need stable funding to support their priorities, and the grant money will help ensure those who were among the hardest hit by the pandemic are not left behind during the recovery, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin told a news conference.
A “cascading series of challenges” over the last several years have had dramatic impacts on First Nations, he said.
“Yes, COVID, but let’s not forget the other pandemic of the opioid overdose crisis, as well as the heat dome, the wildfires, the flooding and the trauma that so many First Nations community members suffered as a result of the findings at residential schools,” he said, referring to the detection of unmarked graves on the grounds of several former institutions in B.C.
Ken Watts, chief councillor of Tseshaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, said the grant brings the certainty the community needs to move forward on priorities it identified when the revenue-sharing agreement was first struck.
In particular, he said funding for the nation’s work on language revitalization this year had been uncertain until the grant funding was confirmed.
Tseshaht is also exploring a tiny home initiative to address what Watts called the housing crisis in his community, and many members share the dream of building a new community centre, he said.
Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said it’s crucial that First Nations design their own pandemic recovery policies and address their specific community needs.
The grant funding will help First Nations participate in the province’s economic recovery plans on their own terms, he told the news conference.
First Nations received about $74 million less than expected last year as gaming revenues declined due to the pandemic, the province said.
From 2019 to 2021, seven per cent of B.C. Lottery Corporation net income amounted to nearly $123 million, it said.