Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.
The future of the mayor of Williams Lake, B.C., will be debated Tuesday night after he shared a post on social media suggesting there is an “other side” to residential schools.
A special meeting of councillors has been called, in which Walter Cobb’s sharing of the post — now deleted from his private Facebook account — is expected to be discussed.
As reported by the Williams Lake Tribune, the post claimed that “most of the older generation that did suffer are long dead and gone or have forgiven,” and “it seems to me that many of the new generations just want to be victims and feel the money would solve their pain.”
Local First Nations called Cobb’s content-sharing on Oct. 29 an “endorsement” of the opinion that content expresses, and called for his resignation.
“With the power that he has as a leader in his municipality, he should be standing beside us and supporting us so we can make Williams Lake a better place,” said Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars.
“He can contribute to that healing journey. He’s not, and he seems to want to discredit it at every chance he gets.”
Cobb declined an interview request from Global News, but said he would address the issue after the council meeting.
Sellars called Cobb’s attitude towards residential schools, which were found to be “cultural genocide” by the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “concerning and disheartening.”
The two-term mayor, who is also a former MLA, has a history of making comments that minimalize the impact of residential schools or disparage First Nations people, added Tŝilhqot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse.
“We want to hold this mayor and council accountable,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of good people in the city of Williams Lake, but they’re not represented by this mentality.”
Chief administrative officer, Gary Muraca, said the city is addressing the First Nations’ concerns “sincerely and seriously,” responding to an open letter from Sellars, posted to its website on Saturday.
Murray Rankin, B.C. minister for Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said he did not see the mayor’s post on social media before it was deleted, but its message is “deeply hurtful to Indigenous peoples.”
He said he’s “deeply disappointed” that an elected official would prop up that kind of content, and urged Cobb to “get educated” on residential schools by learning firsthand from local First Nations.
“Residential school survivors and victims of intergenerational trauma are reeling from the discoveries over the last few months at residential schools,” he told Global News.
“I think it’s important that in public life, we take responsibility for the things we say and do and I would urge him to take responsibility for these comments.”
The St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake operated from 1886 to 1981 and has since been demolished.
In June, Williams Lake First Nation launched a search of its grounds for unmarked burial sites using ground-penetrating radar.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.