It is an exciting time to be chief of Esk’etemc First Nation said Fred Robbins who won the seat in last month’s band election.
“There are some changes that have been happening within the community and the political side of things is positive,” Robbins said.
“We are starting to move in a direction of title and rights and raising up our hereditary system. With support from the community and from our Yucwmintem re Tmicsw re Esketemc group, which means looking after the land of the people of the white Earth, we will be strengthened.”
Robbins has already been working with the Yucwmintem group and is eager to see how much more can be done to pursue a better future for the next generations in Esk’etemc.
“That will be determined in the next four years,” he said of how long his term as chief is.
He has been chief before, and when Charlene Belleau was elected in 2014, Robbins went to work as a junior forestry technician with Alkali Resource Management.
“I had worked for ARM when it was just getting started and it was exciting to go back and see how far we’d come.”
In 2017, ARM employed more than 80 people. The office has grown and a number of Esk’etemc members are going to school to qualify so they can work with what Robbins said will be “an independent” forest sector in the community.
During his helm as chief Robbins underwent organizing a commemoration project to coincide with the Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission coming to Williams Lake during its 2013.
He applied for funding to develop two monuments aimed at helping his community, along with non-natives, address the residential school experience, promote healing and reconciliation.
The monuments were installed at the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School site near Sugar Cane and in Boitanio Park in Williams Lake and unveiled during a St. Joseph Mission Residential School Conference held in the lakecity in May 2013, creating a legacy for residential school survivors
Robbins received the Key to the Cariboo Chilcotin from the Cariboo Regional District in recognition for his efforts with the monuments and conference.
This accolade was reinforced five years later in April 2017, when he was named as a recipient of the BC Achievement Awards for his dedication to uniting all communities of the Cariboo Chilcotin to ensure the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School and its survivors are not forgotten.
Today Robbins insists reconciliation is different than what non-First Nations might interpret it as.
“We are looking for restitution,” he said. “We are willing to work with reconciliation, but restitution is the ultimate goal.”
Robbins received 103 votes. Belleau received 68, Patricia Chelsea received 95, Phyllis Chelsea got 20 and Mercie Jane Paul got 13.
Kerry Bouchard-Chelsea was voted in as councillor with 148 votes, Francis Robbins with 97, David O. Johnson with 96 votes and Joyce Johnson with 95.
Joyce replaced Robbins’ seat as a councillor for the remaining two years of his term.
“I want to send out a big thank you to all the past leaders that blazed a trail for us to follow,” Robbins added.
Last fall the community celebrated the opening of its new school and completion of its new recovery centre, which Robbins said should be opening very soon.
A new Head Start Daycare building is under construction.