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Williams Lake First Nation launches historic land claim settlement referendum

Click to play video: 'Historic Williams Lake First Nations settlement agreement vote' Historic Williams Lake First Nations settlement agreement vote
Concluding more than 25 years of work and a trip to the Supreme Court of Canada, Williams Lake First Nation has just announced its members will soon vote on a historic settlement deal with the federal government. Chief and council last week voted unanimously to recommend accepting the deal. It has to do with Indigenous communities being displaced from what is now Williams Lake to where the reserve is today. Neetu Garcha has more on Ottawa’s proposed compensation – Apr 25, 2022

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) members are voting in a spring referendum on whether to approve a $135-million settlement proposal from the federal government.

In a video released to its membership Monday morning, Kúkpi7 Willie Sellars talks about a decades-long fight for justice after the displacement of Indigenous peoples from their lands in an area in the west end of Williams Lake, including the downtown core, where band members lived.

In 2018, the Supreme court upheld a finding by the Specific Claims Tribunal in 2014 that said the federal government had a responsibility to correct failures on the part of the colony of British Columbia to prevent settlers from building in Indigenous lands, wrongfully displacing members from what is referred to as their village lands in the 1860s.

If approved, Kúkpi7 Sellars says the settlement funds would be used in part to offer a one-time $25,000 payment to each WLFN member Elder over the age of 60, $1,500 to each WLFN member annually, and to put into a professionally managed community trust to provide a legacy for future generations.

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Today, the WLFN community includes a growing population of more than 800 registered members who live on reserve in Sugar Cane, in nearby Williams Lake, BC, and across the globe.

Williams Lake First Nation council voted unanimously to recommend the proposal be approved.

“The interest generated by this trust will be used to make annual payments to members including minors and to make lump-sum payments to elders who reach the age of 60,” Kúkpi7 Sellars says in the video to members.

Read more: Canada owed pre-Confederation duty to protect Williams Lake Indian Band lands from being settled

The amount of $135 million was a negotiated outcome reached during mediation, held with WLFN, the federal government and B.C. Supreme Court Justice Harry Slade, who was then chairperson of the Specific Claims Tribunal Canada.

The claim had been rejected multiple times since WLFN first submitted it in 1994. The proposed settlement of $135 million would be the largest specific claim settlement in B.C. and one of the largest in Canada.

It was in January of 2021 that Canada and WLFN reached an agreement in principle “to resolve the claim for the amount of $135 million and the finalization of the settlement agreement and associated documentation took another fourteen months to complete,” according to a WLFN news release issued Monday.

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With a newly launched website for voting members, the vote comes as the band continues its investigation into the possible 93 unmarked burials found near the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.

Read more: ‘I remember’: B.C. residential school survivor speaks following discovery of possible burial sites

During a visit to the nation last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.9 million to support that investigation.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau visits First Nation, residential school site in Williams Lake, B.C.' Trudeau visits First Nation, residential school site in Williams Lake, B.C.
Trudeau visits First Nation, residential school site in Williams Lake, B.C – Mar 30, 2022

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