The B.C. government announced a suite of new measures in Tuesday’s provincial budget to respond to the needs of Indigenous people and to meet reconciliation goals.
“I describe it as continuing to engage in important relationship building,” said Finance Minister Selina Robinson.
“It’s about finding the path forward, finding the style of engagement that honours the past and provides a future that is beneficial to everyone.”
They include new primary care centres for First Nations communities, new government agencies and better Internet access.
Budget 2022 will commit close to $300 million over five years to connect more than 280 First Nations, rural and remote communities to high-speed internet.
The improved connectivity, the province said, will improve access to digital health-care services, education opportunities and allow people to work remotely or in digital markets. Robinson said that by 2027, nearly 800 communities will benefit from the province’s investments.
In addition to $57 million to increase the number of urgent and primary care centres throughout B.C., the budget also sets aside $45 million to support the operations of up to 15 First Nations primary care centres.
The money is meant to bring traditional wellness providers closer to Indigenous populations and improve access to care.
The budget also earmarks $11 million to support the province’s Aboriginal Head Start program, which provide culturally based child care, early learning and family bonding opportunities for Indigenous children.
“For Indigenous communities throughout the province, programs like this one are benefiting the next generation,” said Robinson in presenting the budget.
In 2019 the province passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act, or UNDRIP, into law. It sets out a framework for reconciliation in B.C. and to seeks to ensure the human rights of Indigenous peoples are respected.
Budget 2022 provides $12 million over the next three years to support that work through a new Declaration Act Secretariat. It will guide provincial legislation and engagement with First Nations to implement goals set out in the act.
“It’s about aligning our laws, the books and statues, and that everything meets muster,” said Robinson.
Leslie Varley, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, applauded the increased commitment to reconciliation in the budget but said more could be done for Indigenous people who live in cities.
“I don’t see a strong commitment to engage with those people,” she said.
New stewardship ministry
Also new in the budget is the creation of a new provincial ministry meant to stimulate economic activity, environmental sustainability and reconciliation.
The province will spend more than $44 million to create the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.
As part of an additional $1 billion in funding for its environmental program, the province will spend $4 million to expand the Indigenous Forest Bioeconomy Program to help participants commercialism and scale-up innovative forest-based products.
Robinson also said the province plans to spend $185 million over the next three years to support First Nations and forestry workers adapting to old-growth logging deferrals, which were put in place to prevent the loss of biodiversity in the province.