Natives vow to press poverty issues at Olympics
Condensed by Native Village 

British Columbia: Squamish Chief Bill Williams is chairman of the Four Host Nations for this year's Winter Olympics. He has warned Canada's governments to provide more funds for Aboriginal economic development, or the Olympics may become an international stage to highlight native poverty.

"There's going to be some 14,000 media people running around [at the Olympics]," he said. "Some of them are already contacting us. They want to know, ‘What's it like to be an Indian in today's world? How do you live?' We are going to start letting those reporters know the reality of the poverty we face."

Leonard Thomas, president of the BC First Nations Forestry Council, said the same thing in letters to government officials.

"The time for plain talking is now upon us. Our forest-dependent first nations communities are no longer willing to quietly sit back and wait for actions that never come," Mr. Thomas wrote. "The fact that your government and its federal partner are spending $3,000,000,000 to stage the Winter Olympics is merely exacerbating the frustration and anger felt by our communities as they continue to be told that there is no money in the pot to address their situations, which, as you are fully aware, are of a most desperate nature."

Mr. Williams said the BC First Nations Forestry Council has asked for $6,000,000 in provincial funding to help develop aboriginal forestry businesses. 
The government has offered only $620,000.

The Forestry Council also asked for $135,000,000 from Ottawa to deal with forest fire hazards created by B.C.'s pine beetle epidemic. The federal government hasn't paid a cent, despite promises to spend nearly $1,000,000,000 over 10 years on the problem.

However, Pat Bell, the B.C. Forests Minister, said his government is working to improve economic opportunities, It has completed agreements with 167 native communities and provided logging access to 43 million cubic metres of timber. That results in $243,000,000  in revenue sharing.

Bell said the FNFC's funding request was rejected because the government wants a detailed financial plan.

"It's great that they are looking for $6-million, but in times of budget restraint ... it is very challenging for me to find that kind of money," Mr. Bell said. "At this point, we are waiting for them to come back to us ... and outline what it is they intend to do and how they will provide value for those taxpayer dollars."

Tewanee Joseph, chief executive officer of the Four Host First Nations, still supports the Games despite Mr. Williams and Mr. Thomas's comments.  He said native communities across Canada will share in an estimated $150,000,000 in Game revenues. He added that 100 aboriginal businesses working on Games-related activities.

"Next month, Four Host First Nations is going to rock the world at the 2010 Games," he said. "At the Aboriginal Pavilion, we're going to share, showcase and educate about our cultures to visitors from around the world."