- Our Town
Testimony helps win WLIB land claim ruling
A year after Williams Lake Indian Band elder Agnes Anderson passed away, a special claims ruling has come out in favour of the band.
On Friday, Feb. 28 the Specific Claims Tribunal released its decision finding that the Williams Lake Band was wrongfully dispossessed of its village lands in Williams Lake in the late 19th century.
Judge Harry Slade held Canada accountable for the Crown’s failure to protect the village lands from non-Indian settlement.
Anderson testified at the tribunal hearings in October 2012.
Her granddaughter Chief Ann Louie said her grandmother is probably smiling down on the band today.
“When she was giving her evidence I thought she would only last an hour or so, but she was 93 years old and elected to sit there all day,” Louie said of her grandmother.
“That’s how powerful it was for her to be involved.”
The band will now have to wait to see if the federal government is going to accept the ruling or not.
“It’s extremely emotional. I was literally shaking when we found out the ruling was in our favour,” Louie said.
Chiefs and Elders have been decrying the fact they were pushed off village lands for 150 years.
It’s been an ongoing issue — the hurt the village has gone through the the hurt of having lands taken away, has passed from generations.
In the mid-19th century, the band had a village site in what is now known as Williams Lake from Glendale all the way through.
“That’s where our community was and displaced from,” Louie said.
In 1879, Chief William, who is Louie’s ancestor, wrote a letter that was published in the British Colonist newspaper and widely circulated, describing his peoples’ desperate condition on account of the settlers’ actions:
“The land on which my people lived for five hundred years was taken by a white man; he has piles of wheat and herds of cattle. We have nothing — not an acre. Another white man has enclosed the graves in which the ashes of our fathers rest, and we may live to see their bones turned over by the plough.”
Louie is hopeful the government will honour the decision and help establish the path toward reconciliation by giving a fair agreement to an outstanding grievance.
If the ruling is accepted, the band will be compensated financially only. The tribunal cannot order that lands be restored.
Louie said the compensation would be used in the way the community decides, but no decisions will be made until the ruling is accepted.