More than 150 years after settlers stole their village, the band finally receives justice.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s reinstatement of a tribunal ruling that the Williams Lake Indian Band is owed federal government compensation for the theft of its village 150 years ago is “very good news” for everyone, says the band’s chief.
“All Canadians should be applauding this decision because it was a wrong against Indigenous people that’s finally been acknowledged,” said Chief Ann Louie. “And it should move us toward reconciliation and building a strong future together.”
At some point in the 1860s, settlers, in direct contravention of Crown law, displaced members of the Williams Lake First Nation out of their village in what is now downtown Williams Lake and forced them to establish a new settlement elsewhere.
The site was home to a thriving Indigenous community with its own church, several longhouses and a burial ground. Some band members starved to death as a result of the displacement, Louie said.
While negotiations on compensation for the band have yet to begin, Louie says it will be seeking $150 million, the maximum reimbursement allowed under the federal Specific Land Claims Tribunal.
But this decision means more than upholding the rule of law in Canada by recognizing injustice against one First Nations band, says UBC anthropology professor Charles Menzies. He said it sets a precedent for future specific land claims across the country, especially in locations where colonial cities and towns were established.
“People shouldn’t be surprised that there is a cost involved to having their town [on unceded First Nations land]. A lot of towns and cities throughout British Columbia are on the best known places to have human habitation,” Menzies said.