Three local First Nations leaders have appealed to city council to help combat racism in Williams Lake.
On Tuesday evening Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie, Canoe Creek Chief David Archie and Canim Lake Chief Mike Archie appeared before city council.
Racism has increased openly after the New Prosperity Mine was rejected and the Specific Claims Tribunal ruled in Williams Lake Indian Band’s favour, Louie said.
“Students have experienced racism and violence since those two announcements,” Louie said.
“You as elected officials are elected for every citizen of Williams Lake, not just the non-First Nations.”
Racism is homegrown and people should look at themselves and how they are dealing with it in their own homes and determine if they are part of the solution or part of the problem, she said.
There are approximately 2,500 First Nations residents living in and around the city, she continued.
City council’s silence is a form of acceptance, and she has seen nothing from the council to denounce comments made on social media, she challenged.
“These victories for our people are based on laws which were not put there by First Nations.”
Louie reminded council of the money First Nations spend locally in the city and region for groceries, household goods, vehicles, insurance, building supplies, medical, dental, optical, education, technology, recreation and taxes.
“Almost every surrounding First Nations community owns and operates logging companies. The trucks and equipment are purchased and serviced locally. One of those pieces of equipment costs half a million dollars,” Louie said.
As well, organizations pay taxes and purchase insurance such as Three Corners Health Society, Northern Shuswap Tribal Council Society, Cariboo Chilcotin Aboriginal Training and Employment Centre and three tribal councils.
Additionally all of these businesses bring people to the city through the local airport, some of who rent vehicles, and stay in local hotels.
“We also employ non-First Nations who in turn pay taxes to the city through property taxes and pay income tax.”
She estimated, frugally, that on average her community members alone are spending $19 million a year in Williams Lake.
“Yet we are told we are a burden on society,” she added.
People need to understand that First Nations bands are a form of government. They administer programs in health, child welfare, education, and social development with funding received from both levels of government, she contiued.
Communities within the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council are presently in treaty negotiations and if they are successful the local economy will benefit.
“First Nations people are here to stay and we take pride in our contributions,” Louie said.
Chief Dave Archie suggested there have been advances in the last 40 years, but the time is right to rise and be a part of the solution.
Williams Lake will always be and there will always be First Nations around supporting it, he said.
“When we grow strong everyone will get to feel that growth. I think there’s just a lot of fear out there, that the Indians want too much.
“People wonder if we want all the land back? It’s us working together that can dispel all the fears out there, but also to dispel the fears that we carry.”
Council agreed to discuss the issue further, working with First Nations leaders.
“Racism isn’t acceptable and it starts with education, a willingness to listen and move forward,” Mayor Kerry Cook said.
“You’ve highlighted a lot of the benefits that people don’t often think about.”