Leaders from the four First Nations behind a first-ever Indigenous-led Olympic and Paralympic bid say the B.C. government's decision not to support their efforts to land the 2030 Winter Games is a blow to reconciliation.
"For our nation, this is 10 steps backwards in reconciliation," said Chief Jen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. "We were asked by the province to share why we want the Olympics, and we didn't get the opportunity."
Wilson Williams, a Squamish Nation councillor, said the four nations were not included in any discussions around the funding denial.
"We didn't come to the table asking for a blank cheque. We were [told] this ain't the right time. When will be the right time for Indigenous peoples to be at the forefront in this so-called spirit of reconciliation?" Williams said.
The leaders say a request to meet with incoming premier David Eby was turned down. If the 2030 bid does not go ahead, the group could look at reviving it for 2034 or beyond.
The bid, which is now essentially dead, was led by the Lil̓wat7úl (Líl̓wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, in collaboration with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler.
The total cost of hosting was estimated at between $3.5 and $4 billion, with funds provided by various levels of government and private sources.
Lisa Beare, B.C.'s Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, said the province's share was $1.2 billion in hard costs, plus another $1 billion in risk, an amount that has the potential to take resources away from other pressing priorities like health care and public safety.
Beare said she delivered the news to the Nations and COC in a virtual meeting on Monday after the cabinet made the decision in Victoria.
"The First Nations are extraordinarily disappointed by this, and I absolutely understand. It's a heartbreaking decision," she said. "Reconciliation is a long journey ... I'm committed to the Nations to continue the work on reconciliation personally."
Chief Wayne Sparrow expressed disappointment on behalf of the Musqueam Indian Band.
"When the minister mentioned it was not a priority … I mentioned it's bigger than 2030. It's reconciliation, and it's working with the nations, government to government, to move forward," he said.
With B.C. out of the picture, only Salt Lake City and Sapporo, Japan, remain in the running for 2030. However, both cities have issues.
Sapporo is facing low support from the Japanese public due to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics bribery scandal and the arrests of a Games organizer and a number of business executives. Salt Lake City has indicated 2034 may be more feasible since Los Angeles is already slated to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Vancouver and Whistler previously hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 bid was touting the reuse of many of the facilities as a sustainable way to bring down the cost.
Vancouver and Whistler are already set to host the 2025 Invictus Games, and Vancouver is one of 16 North American host cities for the 2026 FIFA men's World Cup.