New Program Lets Settler Canadians Pay ‘Rent’ to Indigenous Communities

A nonprofit agency set up the program encouraging average homeowners to pay about $400 annually to First Nations on whose territory they live or work. 
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
October 12, 2021, 4:03pm
Victoria, British Columbia
Suburban street and view of mountains, Victoria, British Columbia, where people may soon be able to pay a form of "rent" to Indigenous communities. Stock photo via Getty

People in British Columbia may soon be able to pay “rent” to Indigenous communities as part of a new initiative that encourages people to “decolonize their backyards.” 

The nonprofit initiative, Reciprocity Trusts, encourages homeowners, renters, and business owners to make payments to First Nations on whose territory they live or work. 

“The idea for Reciprocity really came from conversations with Indigenous colleagues and friends over many years,” said Sarah Reid, Reciprocity Trust’s program director. “We were hearing from Indigenous people who are impacted by ongoing colonialism in their day-to-day lives. So we asked, ‘Well, what can I do in my own life as a settler in these lands?’”

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Payments are calculated based on property value or monthly rent: renters are encouraged to pay the equivalent of 1 percent their monthly rent, while homeowners can opt to pay the equivalent of 1 percent of their property taxes per month. Businesses can pledge 1 percent of their profit. 

According to Naomi Devine, Reciprocity Trust’s strategic advisor, an average homeowner in Victoria would pay about $400 per year. 

The initiative comes in the wake of a reckoning in Canada following the confirmation of more than 200 unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, British Columbia. As more and more unmarked graves are confirmed across Canada, many non-Indigenous people have had to face Canada’s horrific legacy of displacing, forcibly assimilating, and abusing Indigenous peoples, at residential schools and beyond. Now, people are asking, “What can I do to help?” 

According to Reciprocity Trust’s website, “British Columbians can start saying thank you for over 150 years of rent-free living by paying a little back each year.” (It’s been a little over 150 years since Canada’s confederation.)

The point, Reid said, is to create room for non-Indigenous people to recognize Indigenous land rights and title in a concrete way. It’s money that residents and businesses can pay directly to Indigenous nations, who then control where the money goes and how it’s spent. 

The payment is neither a charity nor a tax, Reid said.

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At the start, about 85 percent of proceeds will go directly to independent trusts run by the First Nations themselves, while the remaining chunk will cover operating costs at Reciprocity Trusts.

Many ostensibly progressive initiatives have turned out to be problematic in Canada. In one example, many Canadians rushed to buy orange “Every Child Matters” T-shirts over the summer, which prompted white sellers to produce and make a profit off of their own designs, as opposed to amplifying Indigenous designers. 

Devine said her team is trying to avoid “white saviour complex-style solutions.”

“Our solution is a solution beneficial to nations themselves; it’s coming from them as well as from us,” she said.

Reid and Devine are not Indigenous themselves. They said the Reciprocity Trusts team currently has one Indigenous member. The agency has also reached out to 10 First Nations so far, with T’Sou-ke and Songhees First Nations voicing interest. 

VICE World News asked to speak with Indigenous representatives currently in conversation with Reciprocity Trusts, but did not hear back. However, Chief Gordon Planes of T’sou-ke Nation is quoted in Reciprocity Trust’s media package.

“My first response to this idea was, ‘It’s about time.’ We have lots of work to do, but I’m looking forward to what Reciprocity could represent for our people: grassroots recognition, regular and independent revenue we can use to support our land, language, and culture, and also a way to connect with residents and businesses within our territory who care and can help us with things like environmental restoration and invasive species,” Planes said.

The initiative is currently in a “pledge phase,” Reid said. That means the agency is collecting commitments from people saying they want to participate in the initiative when it launches, and passing those pledges along to First Nations. There were 325 pledges as of last week. 

The hope is to start paying Indigenous communities in and around Victoria, B.C., in early 2022, with possible expansion across Canada in the future. 

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