Band celebrates initial tribunal victory

WLIB elder Jean William in full regalia during the powwow at Sugar Cane Wednesday, April 16. - Monica Lamb-Yorski photo
WLIB elder Jean William in full regalia during the powwow at Sugar Cane Wednesday, April 16.
— image credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

The Williams Lake Indian Band celebrated its specific claims tribunal victory in Sugar Cane last week with a community dinner and powwow.

WLIB Chief Ann Louie said even though the federal government filed a judicial review against the ruling, and the court has reserved its decision for the time being, the community felt it was necessary to celebrate the tribunal ruling.

On Friday, Feb. 28, the Specific Claims Tribunal released its decision finding 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.

“It’s imperative we celebrate,” Chief Ann Louie said. “If we just sit back then we’re not honouring the work that we and our forefathers did.”

For more than 150 years Chiefs and Elders have been alleging First Nations were pushed off their village lands.

The tribunal decision clearly stated the dispossession from the lands was wrong, Louie said.

On April 7 and 8, WLIB members and supporters, along with the Kitselas Band from the Northwest B.C., spent two days in court because the federal government has filed judicial reviews against both bands’ specific claims tribunal rulings.

Louie said one of the statements made by the federal government’s lawyers in the court was insulting.

“He stated that oral history was inconsistent with reliable evidence. In other words our people are liars or made up the evidence we provided.”

The Tribunal argued the government needs to allow the Tribunal to make the final decisions for all specific claims to come to an end as an alternative to going to court.

Louie said WLIB will be waiting for the outcome of the court ruling because it will impact the case and the tribunal overall.

“I personally do not see any purpose for the tribunal if the federal government gets its way. Once again the government says one thing and does another.”

Claims do not return lands to First Nations, but will instead financially compensate to a maximum of $10 million.

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