Calls for the resignation of Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb are growing amongst Indigenous leaders in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) Chief Willie Chief Sellars issued an open letter to the city of Williams Lake late Friday requesting it clarify its position on the impacts of residential schools after Cobb shared a post on his personal social media purporting to share the ‘other side’ of residential schools.
“I would like to see him step down and have someone in who actually cares about reconciliation and building relationships with First Nations people,” Sellars told the Tribune Monday.
Tsilhqot’in Nation Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse has also added his voice to the calls for Cobb’s resignation, calling the mayor’s actions ‘irresponsible and unacceptable conduct for a mayor in 2021.’
“This is not an isolated incident for Mayor Cobb and the Williams Lake Council. In June 2020, Mayor Cobb and Councillor Marnie Brenner reportedly opined about the need to understand “both sides of the story” when it comes to residential schools, in discussions with Williams Lake First Nation about an unrelated matter,” Alphonse said in a news release. “Despite efforts to educate Williams Lake City Council about the realities of the residential school system, and despite the confirmation of unmarked graves at Tk’emlups residential school and other sites across Canada, and despite the active site investigation efforts at St. Joseph’s Mission in the area and the Indian Hospital and Day School grounds at Tl’etinqox, Mayor Cobb continues to deny and dismiss the trauma experienced at these institutions by First Nations peoples and families in Williams Lake and the surrounding communities.”
Williams Lake CAO Gary Muraca issued a news release Saturday stating that the city does take reconciliation seriously and that the matter will be addressed at the next Williams Lake City Council meeting set for Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. where the mayor and council are expected to be in attendance.
Appearing as a delegation to address the mayor’s actions will be Charlene Belleau on behalf of the Williams Lake First Nation. Belleau is a former chief, member of the Esketemc First Nation and was recently appointed by the provincial government as one of two liaisons who will work with First Nations with former Indian residential schools and Indian hospital sites. Her appointment includes supporting those caretaker communities and to work to link those communities with provincial and federal agencies.
Belleau is expected to share the impact of residential schools and investigations into former residential school sites with council.
In response to questions Friday afternoon, Mayor Walt Cobb said he shares various opinions on social media that represent different sides of stories, and that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he shares.