On the morning of Sunday, September 10, 2023, while hundreds were preparing for the final day of Williams Lake First Nation’s annual competition pow wow, Elder Amy Sandy gave an opening prayer to a small delegation in front of the Nation’s administration building. Although dwarfed by the momentary excitement that dancers and drummers had brought to the nearby pow wow grounds, this intimate gathering was generations in the making, and will impact generations to come.
Cannada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Gary Anandasangaree, visited Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) to deliver an apology for the historical wrongs related to the Nation’s Village Site Specific Claim. The apology was taken in by a handful of WLFN community members, staff, leadership and Elders, and a small press corps.
“The Government of Canada accepts responsibility for this historic injustice and expresses its deep regret and sincere apology to the First Nation for the harms suffered,” said Minister Anandasangaree. “This apology and negotiated settlement is a step toward a renewed relationship with the community, and one that was necessary in order for Canada to be an honest and accountable Treaty partner. Thank you to Chief Sellars and all those who made this historic day possible.”
The settlement which Minister Anandasangaree spoke of includes a $135 Million payout to Williams Lake First Nation (of which community members have already seen benefits), and the ability to add an additional 1400 acres to WLFN reserve lands.
WLFN’s Director of Self-Government and elected Councillor, Chris Wycotte took to the microphone to share his experience in this decades-long battle. “We kicked the door down on that one” he quipped, referring to legal precedence that WLFN’s Specific Claim established. “Now, First Nations all across Canda can rely on our claim to take similar types of claims to court. It eliminates the statute of limitations on [pre-confederacy] claims, so, I think we really did a good job on this one.”
“Williams Lake First Nation has worked hard to have this terrible wrong corrected,” says WLFN Kukpi7 Willie Sellars in an accompanying press release. “Our ancestors were driven from a village site our people have used for millennia. We took this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada to make sure Canada took responsibility for how badly our people were treated when our village lands were wrongfully taken from us.”
Closing the presentation, Kukpi7 Sellars speaks candidly: “It’s really hard not to get emotional when we talk about the work [that led to this apology]. We’re going to celebrate today.”