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Reciprocity: New program will help B.C. residents 'decolonize our backyards'

A way for renters, homeowners, and businesses to pay back for living and working on unceded lands
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Homeowners and renters will be able to participate in Reciprocity's system, which supports funds that help Indigenous rights' groups.

The people behind Reciprocity is working at "decolonizing our backyards."

What does that mean?

"Essentially, Reciprocity was born to give people a clear and simple way to recognize Indigenous rights," Sarah Reid, the organization's program director, tells Vancouver Is Awesome.

Specifically, it's a way for people living on the historical lands of B.C.'s First Nations to financially recognize that fact. Reid calls it a way to decolonize our collective backyard without waiting for government action.

The mechanics of it are fairly simple. Reciprocity will run different trust funds based on different regions; right now they're focusing on launching the South Island Reciprocity Trust with a Lower Mainland Reciprocity Trust also in the works (which would include Metro Vancouver).

People will voluntarily choose to pay into the trusts as something akin to rent.

"Through Reciprocity Trusts, British Columbians can start saying thank you for over one hundred and fifty years of rent-free living by paying a little back each year," states Reciprocity's website. "These annual payments will go directly to participating Indigenous Nations, who have control over where they accept payments from and what priorities they go towards."

Participating First Nations will control each fund, with each nation in a trust region sending a trustee to the regional trust's board. They'll decide how to divide the fund between the nations. The participating nations will then decide on how best to use those funds. Reid notes an important idea behind the project is that First Nations would have control over where the funds go.

"In the Lower Mainland the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations would have the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to participate," Reid explains.

For those choosing to make the payments, Reciprocity is working along the same lines as the 1% Pledge. They recommend payments of either 1 per cent of monthly rent (for renters) or 1 per cent of home property taxes per month (for homeowners). They're also looking to businesses to participate; for them, it would be 1 percent of profits, shares, time or product.

"I think it's a concept people are familiar with and I think it's a real tangible amount," Reid says.

Participants would also receive some sort of marker to show their participation, like a decal or lawn sign. Tax-deductible receipts are also in the works.

She notes it'd make recognition of Indigenous land rights more visible. Around 95 per cent of B.C. is unceded land.

Right now a simple calculator on the site can help work things out. Once it launches people will be able to make annual payments via credit cards or Paypal.

The site is also collecting pledges from people who want to participate once things go live. Reid notes over 360 people have individuals have signed up so far to join, with hundreds more looking for more information once it has launched.

The project, which was announced on June 21 (National Indigenous Peoples Day), is currently in its beta phase as organizers reach out to different First Nations. Their focus right now is the southern end of Vancouver Island where they've been meeting with a half-dozen local First Nations, though progress has been hampered by COVID-19. Reid says they're getting into the nitty-gritty with the groups now and trying to work out finer print.

Reid expects Reciprocity will launch in six months, first with the South Island trust, and followed by others in B.C. Some preliminary talks have already happened with the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh who have indicated they're interested, Reid says.