The federal government apologized to the people of Williams Lake First Nation for “the harms suffered as a result of the unlawful and wrongful actions that separated the First Nation from their village lands.”
“It was a big moment for us, a very emotional day,” said Kukpi’7 Chief Willie Sellers. “A lot of work and a lot of those Elders aren’t here that helped us win that case. When I start thinking about celebrating and holding up the legacy of those individuals we can’t but get emotional thinking about all the work that they did so we could be here.”
In 1861 the federal government removed Williams Lake Nation from their village.
It forced members to live in the surrounding mountains. It lasted for years – sometimes homeless.
The former village is now the City of Williams Lake and a site in the early 1870s, across the lake, was chosen as a reserve for the nation.
“The Williams Lake First Nation has worked hard to have this terrible wrong corrected,” Sellers said at the event on Sept. 10. “Our ancestors were driven from a village site our people have used for millennia.”
The nation ended up at the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure that Canada “took responsibility” for how poorly people were treated Sellers said.
“Reaching the settlement agreement with Canada and establishing the Williams Lake Community Trust for current and future members of WLFN, is a very important achievement for our community, and a significant milestone in the path to reconciliation with Canada,” said Sellers.
According to the agreement, Williams Lake First Nation “has the option to acquire and seek to add up to 1400 acres to their reserve,” said the government release. “Land will be acquired based on the willing participation of both the First Nation and the property owner in the property sale. This acquisition may create new opportunities for community economic development that benefit the First Nation and the regional economy for generations to come.”
“The government of Canada accepts responsibility for this historic injustice and expresses its deepest regret and sincere apology to the people of Williams Lake First Nation for the harms suffered by being unlawfully and wrongfully displaced and separated from the village homelands,” said Gary Anandasangaree, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations at the event.