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Williams threatens to go to international media to get more money

A director of the Four Host First Nations is threatening to use the Olympics to draw forestry money out of the federal government.

A director of the Four Host First Nations is threatening to use the Olympics to draw forestry money out of the federal government.

Squamish Nation Chief Bill Williams, who represents his people on the board of the Four Host First Nations, has issued an ultimatum to the federal government: give First Nations money to deal with forestry issues or we'll use the Olympics to air our problems in the international media.

He issued the news release last week wearing his hat at vice-president of B.C.'s First Nations Forestry Council (FNFC).

"Unless action is taken to address the long-standing needs and concerns of the vast majority of our communities," Williams said, "the FNFC will reluctantly, but without hesitation, use the international media contacts at our disposal to shine the global spotlight on the reality that is life for these communities."

Speaking Jan. 8 in an interview with Pique , Williams said federal government promised $1 billion in 2005 to deal with the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. The money was to be spent over 10 years.

Thus far he's only seen $200 million spent as part of the Federal Mountain Pine Beetle Program and he worries that without delivery of more funds First Nation communities could be vulnerable to wildfire.

"The Forestry Council has been trying to get the province and the feds involved in creating a forest economy in the Province of British Columbia," he told Pique .

"They only spent $200 million and very little of it went to aboriginal communities. A majority went to municipalities, they spent money on making new bike paths... and a whole bunch of other miscellaneous stuff unrelated to the pine beetle epidemic."

After a summer that's been called one of the worst seasons for wildfire in B.C., Williams is demanding that the government contribute $135 million to First Nation communities to help them build buffer zones in which they'll knock down beetle-infested trees so they won't be fuel for forest fires.

"We saw a very horrific example of what can happen in Kamloops and Kelowna a number of years ago," he said. "We don't want that repeated in and around aboriginal communities.

"We can help the aboriginal communities create a buffer to protect themselves from a firestorm and also help the economies around the aboriginal communities for work and jobs creating these buffers."

Williams is threatening to use the Olympics to air First Nation grievances despite the fact that First Nations have received various contributions from governments and organizers leading up to the Games.

The Four Host First Nations, the Squamish, Lil'wat, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh, are the first official indigenous partners in an Olympics and will have their art and culture promoted throughout the Games, including at each Olympic venue.

The Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, meanwhile, received more than $5 million through the Shared Legacies Agreement, which also saw them get 300 acres of Crown land for economic development.

Asked how he thinks the public will react to more demands after First Nations received these contributions, Williams said, "I have no idea. What we do know is that I am told there are 14,000 press people that signed up to come to the Olympics."

A spokesperson with Natural Resources Canada, the ministry that deals with funding for the pine beetle, said the Federal Mountain Pine Beetle Program has spent about $11.2 million on First Nations, including $10.6 million for management of forest fuels. Eighty First Nations, she said, have participated in projects under that fund.