The Williams Lake First Nation is preparing to hold a referendum this spring for its members to vote on a proposed $135 million settlement with the federal government.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars released a video Monday (April 25) explaining the history of the lands and the decades-long legal dispute, as well as how members would benefit from the agreement if it is approved.
Sellars said their intention is to create a legacy for their community that will be properly managed and sustained forever.
The agreement-in-principle settles a long-standing specific claim relating to WLFN’s displacement from their traditional village lands 160 years ago which now form the city of Williams Lake.
The claim has been the subject of nearly 30 years of legal disputes.
“The proposed settlement of our village claim is the culmination of more than 160 years of effort by our people to obtain some form of justice from the Government of Canada,” said WLFN councillor, Chris Wycotte. “Our people were unlawfully displaced from lands where they had resided for thousands of years. We lost our homes, we lost our burial sites, we lost our spiritual sites, we lost lands that were critical for sustenance and survival.”
Wycotte was a young man working for WLFN when he discovered the history laid out in a paper trail of documents in the provincial archives. Wycotte presented the evidence, which included a letter by Chief William describing how his people were pushed off the land, starving and living in poverty, to the WLFN government, who in turn forwarded the information to their lawyers.
The federal government fought the claim to the highest court,before having to come to the settlement.
Speaking to the Tribune Monday, Wycotte said he was happy with the amount and all the possibilities that come with it for his community of more than 800 members.
All WLFN members over the age of 18 will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed settlement in a referendum to be conducted on June 29, 2022.
Sellars noted “reconciliation is about healing – it’s about leveling the playing field so that our people have the same opportunities for education, housing, employment, and all other amenities as non-Indigenous Canadians. We intend to continue to invest in our community and this settlement, if properly managed, will allow us to do that forever.”
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Mayor Walt Cobb told the Tribune he was happy for WLFN.
“I think it’s great. It should assist them a long way in getting housing and other needs they require.”