Standing inside of what will soon be the headquarters for most staff of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN), chief administrative officer Aaron Mannella was recently asked if it was a new hotel being built along Highway 97 south of Williams Lake.
“I laughed and said ‘no, it’s our government administration building,’ ” he said.
Construction on the 18,000-sq.ft. facility is continuing after ground was broken this spring despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The nearly $9-million building located near the Williams Lake First Nation subdivision, Coyote Rock Estates, is on track to be completed late summer 2021.
Most WLFN staff are currently in various older buildings on-reserve at Sugarcane. Others are at the nation’s government building in downtown Williams Lake which opened last spring.
“It’s an interesting scenario, and one that many First Nation communities face in that there was never one large facility built that could sustain a governance,” Mannella said, noting it was not until the 1970s First Nations were entrusted to conduct their own administration.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars credited the vision of having staff under one roof to his predecessor and mentor chief Ann Louie.
“When you need to go to social development it’s in one building; when you need to go to administration it’s in another building; when you need go to education it’s another building; when you go natural resources it’s another building,” Sellars said, noting all the different buildings cause confusion.
Although he noted the price tag of the building is “staggering,” he maintains it’s needed.
“Hopefully when we’re looking back 10 to 20 years from now, we have a healthier community than we do now, a healthier region, and healthier First Nations communities,” Sellars said.
Once opened, WLFN will engage with their members on what to do with the vacated on-reserve government buildings.