A blessing ceremony was held Thursday at the site of the Highway 97 four-laning project after a worker died Wednesday due to non-work-related causes. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Blessing ceremony at four-laning project site after worker died of non-work-related causes

Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars said it was important to have the ceremony before work resumed

The day after a grader operator died from non-work-related causes at the Highway 97 four-laning project south of Williams Lake, local First Nations held a blessing ceremony at the construction site.

Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars said leadership felt it was necessary to have a blessing before work resumed.

“We understand the project needs to get done and the importance for the safety of the people travelling through the corridor and the urgency that’s been put on Cantex Okanagan Construction by the ministry and general public and community of Williams Lake, but we also wanted to have a ceremony because of what has happened to give people peace of mind,” Sellars told the Tribune Thursday.

Read more: Medical emergency shuts down Highway 97 construction project

“We wanted to help the workers cleanse their minds, bodies and souls and contribute to that healing and wellness process that is needed when death happens.”

For First Nations people, when significant events happen it is important to bless the area, Sellars added.

“Former chief Ann Louie spearheaded the initiative with Rhiannon Anderson from Cantex Okanagan Construction Ltd. to allow us to come onto the site into the lay down area to have a prayer and smudging ceremony and a prayer song. We did that and offered anyone to come that wanted.”

The whole crew was there, he confirmed, noting it was a “rough scene” with lots of sad and down-looking faces.

“I went and shook hands with every band member that was there,” Sellars said. “Everybody knows the project needs to get done and it was so good of Cantex to let us come in and do the ceremony.”

After the ceremony, a small contingent of people from Cantex and WLIB leadership went up to the excavator and cleansed it and performed a grizzly bear song.

“That machine is going to have to go back to work so we wanted to bless it and make sure that individual is gone up in a good way to the spirit world,” Sellars said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done so we wanted to make sure everybody was moving forward in a good way.”

Sellars said he did not have official details on who the person was or how he died.

On Thursday afternoon Sellars was expected to meet with representatives from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for a bi-monthly meeting and update on the project.

“Earl McLeod the site superintendent has been really good when it comes to things like the ceremony, but at the meeting with the ministry I will tell them we need to stress the importance of having ground-breaking ceremonies with local First Nations, and blessing the area before you put a piece of equipment into the ground,” Sellars said. “It’s a very important part of the process and something that should be done right from the get-go.”

Read more: Four-laning of Highway 97 on schedule near Sugar Cane

Sellars acknowledged there have been many challenges over the three years of the four-laning project that has caused delays.

The RCMP and EHS responded to the death Wednesday morning.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Del Byron said he could not comment on the incident, however, confirmed the matter is under investigation by the BC Coroners Service.


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