The new mayor and council of Williams Lake, B.C. have made Indigenous relations a pillar of their term.
One new councillor says it represents a major shift for Williams Lake, after years of strained relations between the local government and Indigenous communities around the city.
“Williams Lake is a pretty brutal place in regards to the lack of inclusivity,” said new Williams Lake Coun. Michael Moses, a member of the Secwepemc and Nlaka’pamux Nations. “A big reason I ran for our city council was to try to start repairing and improving Indigenous relations in our region, and in our city specifically.”
The January 2022 launch, under Williams Lake’s previous council,of a truth and reconciliation committee was “almost a direct response,” Moses said, to the city’s then-mayor sharing a widely denounced post on social media, claiming there was an “other side” to residential schools and that Indigenous people “want to be victims.”
“The creation of the committee was a response to bad press, and obviously, a very, very angered and pained reaction from the local tribal councils,” said Moses.
However, Moses says, the truth and reconciliation committee announced under the previous council “never actually came into existence.” Going forward, Indigenous relations will be a part of the community services committee, which Moses chairs.
The committee will look to examples around the province, such as the City of Kamloops and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, which won the B.C. Reconciliation Award earlier this year. Williams Lake council will also apply for funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities to fund Indigenous communications and host events, Moses said.
Moses says establishing Indigenous relations as a core principle of the city council was his “biggest dream,” but he did not think this was a realistic goal.
“I was really pleasantly surprised that the rest of city council, every single one of them, was incredibly supportive,” he said.
Mayor Surinderpal Rathor, the first Indo-Canadian Mayor of Williams Lake, says that he wants to work with every level of government for his term, including the local First Nations authorities.
“It is important to me [that the] First Nations are our equal partner and neighbour,” said Rathor. He said First Nations authorities are no different from any other level of government.
Steven Forseth, Cariboo Regional District Area ‘D’ Director, has values aligned with the new Williams Lake council.
“At a local government-high level, I do hope that we’re trying to still build and foster those relationships, to really understand the concerns of Indigenous nations,” said Forseth.
“I think that reconciliation needs to be not just a checkmark on a checklist, but it needs to be culturally ingrained into non-Indigenous local governments as a part of culture,” said Forseth.
“We will work and proactively engage with our Indigenous neighbours, not just because legislation says we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
This is my civic reporting piece, which is also available to view on The Voice’s website.