It may have taken a long time, but Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) treaty manager and lead negotiator Chris Wycotte Sr. now has an office with a gorgeous view.
Looking out from his corner office Wycotte, 70, can see his community of Sugar Cane out one direction and the view toward the city of Williams Lake in the other from the new WLFN’s administration building above Highway 97.
Wycotte was born at home in Sugar Cane on April 18, 1951.
“A lot of us were born at home,” he said. “I remember midwives coming in to help with births. There were always dedicated women in the community to do that.”
Access to hospitals was not automatic, he added, noting for many First Nations people the mode of travel was team and wagon.
From Kindergarten to Grade 5, he attended day school in the community and then went to St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School for three years.
“I was cut off from my family and culture and suffered emotional and physical abuse at the mission. My parents did not come and see us for six months and we were only four miles away. I was angry about that for years and when I raised the fact in my 20s, my parents told me they were told by the priests not to come and visit us.”
Wycotte eventually left the mission and went to school in Williams Lake, graduating from Columneetza in 1970.
After high school he did some odd jobs. He then worked in autobody repair for 14 years at various shops, including Norberg Motors in the used car department. People would bring in trade-ins and he prepared them for resale.
In his 30s he decided to go to Fraser Valley College to study history and then transferred to UBC with plans to complete a degree with a major in history and minor in political science.
While he was in his fourth year, he realized he was needed at home to help his wife with raising their children so he left and returned to Sugar Cane.
Rick Gilbert was chief at the time and asked Wycotte if he would come and work for the community.
“When I asked if he could give me time to think about it, he said I could have a week. I started out in economic development.”
By 1993, WLFN was involved with the treaty process and because of his history background, Wycotte was tasked with doing research.
“I went to many archives in B.C. I went to the provincial archives in Victoria, the federal archives in Burnaby, examined the James Teit collection at the museum and archives in Merritt, the Secwepemc Museum in Kamloops and the Hudson’s Bay Archives in Winnipeg. We were doing in-depth research on traditional land use to start defining our boundaries for our statement of intent for our treaty.”
Through his research he was able to verify the present day Williams Lake was a village site and the pre-emptions were illegal because they violated the laws of the province at the time.
He became treaty manager in 2007 for Williams Lake First Nation and a negotiation and agreement in principle was reached in 2012.
The negotiations eventually broadened to represent the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) which was a co-ordinated effort between Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe/Dog Creek), Xat’sull Cmetem (Soda/Deep Creek) and T’excelc (Williams Lake First Nation) communities to achieve self-governance.
Wycotte had two daughters. The oldest one Renee, died in 2016 due to a medically-related cause and Michelle died in February 2021 of COVID-19. His grandson Tristan also passed away. He was Renee’s son.
“It’s not something you can just get over,” he said of the death of family members.
“Sometimes when I am sitting at home I still expect them to come through the door, but they never will.”
In his past he enjoyed playing hockey and doing rodeo all over B.C., riding bulls and bareback horses.
“I wasn’t good at it, but it was something that everybody did,” he said of his rodeo days.
His twin sons, Kris and Stan Wycotte, were rodeo cowboys too who also rode bulls and saddle bronc.
In 1996, Chris qualified for the National High School Finals in Pavlo, Colorado in saddle bronc riding.
Wycotte drove Chris and Dwayne Alphonse from Anaham who competed in bull riding, to the rodeo and said it was one of the highlights of his life.
“There were 1,700 contestants, it was a pretty big rodeo. It was 10 days long and I enjoyed every day.”
Proud of where his community has come, Wycotte said there are still some issues such as inter-generational trauma from residential schools that need to be addressed.
“It’s a big thing that a lot of people don’t know about and don’t understand, but it is something we have to really work on to have a good healthy community.”
Planning to work until the treaty negotiations come to a final agreement, Wycotte said he is hoping that will happen within the next five years.
“Fortunately the political landscape has changed and it looks like we will be able to negotiate an agreement that we can be satisfied with,” he said. “I’ve been telling the guys I’ve got my horse tied up and the saddle all up and ready to ride into the sunset so we need to get this damn thing done.”