Chris Istace
(Christ Istace speaking during a debate hosted by Gabriola Talks and the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce/Youtube)

A BC Green Party candidate issued an online apology after he referred to First Nations gaming grants as “handouts” during a debate.

Chris Istace, the Green candidate for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, made the comments while participating in an online debate on October 15 hosted by Gabriola Talks and the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce.

“The NDP candidate spoke there saying that we’re getting through the pipeline and gaming grants,” Istace said in a rebuttal to Doug Routley.

“What about actually allowing First Nations their ability to find their own economic sovereignty, rather than the handout system?”

Under the BC First Nations Gaming Revenue Sharing Limited Partnership agreement, First Nations receive 7 per cent of the BC Lottery Corporation’s net income.

The sharing agreement was signed on September 16, 2020 and will be in effect for the next 23 years.

Istace’s comments drew sharp condemnation online from Indigenous leaders including Sxwchálten Iy X̱elsílem, an elected councillor of the Squamish Nation, and Doug White III Kwulasultun, a lawyer who serves as Chair of the BC First Nations Council.

“I had encountered a lot of middle class progressives befuddled and opposed to the Gaming Revenue Sharing when it was announced,” X̱elsílem wrote on Twitter Monday.

“It revealed a stunning lack of awareness of longstanding First Nations demands for equity on where the govt is generating revenue.”

White demanded explanations from the Green Party leadership, tagging Saanich South incumbent MLA Adam Olsen and leader Sonia Furstenau in a tweet on the comments.

“Gathering info on what Nanaimo-North Cowichan @BCGreens candidate Chris Istace said about not supporting First Nations provincial gaming revenue sharing agreement,” White wrote on Sunday.

“He called it a ‘handout’ in a debate last night. What’s up with that my brother @AdamPOlsen and @SoniaFurstenau ???”

Istace replied to White’s tweet just under 90 minutes after it had been posted, saying he “unreservedly apologized for using the term handouts.”

“The word is disparaging and reflects a deeply regressive approach to the very reality of colonialism in our province,” Istace wrote.

“I fully support Indigenous communities receiving funding from gaming revenue as they currently do.”

Istace went on to say that he believes the provincial government should be working with First Nations to develop sustainable economic projects.

“I should have chosen my words better — there is no excuse for using that word,” he added. “I will do better.”

Early Tuesday morning, White pressed Furstenau on Twitter to comment on the issue, saying he had not yet heard from her.

Furstenau tweeted a reply to White approximately nine hours later, saying she thought it was the right thing for Istace to “apologize unequivocally.”

“Adam & I have been advocating for increased revenue sharing with Indigenous people — both resource revenues and other activities such as gaming,” Furstenau wrote.

“Indigenous people and communities should benefit from activities that happen on their territories — we have been and remain steadfast in that position.”

During a second all candidates debate for Nanaimo-North Cowichan on Monday night, Istace took a moment to refer back to the provincial gaming grant program.

“On the gaming revenue, absolutely it’s an awesome program, but it’s only a fraction of what we need to be doing,” he said.

“We need to actually foster true economic resilience and independence.”

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