By Dirk Meissner
THE CANADIAN PRESS
VICTORIA- Homeowners in Victoria could soon have the option to voluntarily add between five and 10 per cent extra to their annual property tax bill as a contribution to a reconciliation fund for local Indigenous nations, says Mayor Lisa Helps.
City council will debate the voluntary contribution plan Thursday at a committee meeting where the aim is to have the policy adopted and ready to include in property tax notices later this year, she said.
Helps said the city would collect the money and provide it to the Victoria-area Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, along with the $200,000 reconciliation grant the council has previously approved for them.
“The principle is the City of Victoria is built on the homelands of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and those of us who own real estate here or do business here or run the city here, we literally benefit and generate wealth from someone else’s lands,” Helps said in an interview.
“We will simply send out a notice when the property tax notices go out,” she said. “It will be an additional notice and it will let people know some of the work that’s been happening on reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations over the past five years.”
The Songhees Nation said in a statement it appreciates the efforts of Victoria’s council and residents on the reconciliation initiative.
“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 toward reconciliation,” said Katherine Legrange, Songhees executive director. “We hope that this sets a precedent for other cities and municipalities to follow suit, and we thank Mayor Helps and council for their commitment to strengthening our relationship.”
The agenda for Thursday’s meeting says many non-Indigenous people in Victoria have expressed wishes to do more for reconciliation at local events and especially following the discovery of what are believed to be about 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former
residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Helps said the contributions are entirely voluntary but the money will go toward projects administered by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, including education, language, child care and housing.
Council would be making no recommendations of where the nations should spend the money, she said.
“The idea is to make this a permanent program,” she said. “We recognize many people are stretched with inflation and coming out of the pandemic. I expect we will see pretty slow uptake in 2022, but the idea is to set up this program in perpetuity.”
The city hasn’t estimated how much people in Victoria might contribute to the fund, said Helps.
“I wouldn’t want to put pressure on people,” she said. “I want this to come from people’s hearts.”
The initiative appears to be the first of its kind by a local government in Canada, said the founder of Victoria-based Reciprocity Research Inc., which is developing a similar contribution initiative it plans to launch on Vancouver Island this year.
“It’s something that’s long overdue for there to be some kind of avenue that connects private property owners with the Indigenous communities in whose territory they live and work,” said Craig Candler in an interview.
Candler, a cultural anthropologist with experience in environmental, regulatory and Indigenous rights processes, said his group is poised to introduce a Reciprocity Trusts program this year that asks private property owners to contribute what amounts to 12 per cent above their property tax bill.
He said a 12 per cent contribution would amount to about $500 for average property owners in the Victoria area.
Contributors would receive a tax receipt, said Candler, adding the group already has about 250 people in the Victoria area waiting to contribute to Reciprocity Trusts.
He said about 750 people across Canada are also prepared to contribute as more trusts are set up in other cities and communities.
“The reality is my family owns a little piece of property on Songhees and Esquimalt territory,” said Candler. “We love it. It’s our home. We’re going to be staying here. If we’re going to be staying here, then creating some way to benefit Songhees and Esquimalt _ it just makes sense.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.