Ongoing tensions between the Williams Lake mayor and Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) found its way to the Cariboo Regional District’s (CRD) meeting on Friday, Aug. 21.
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb was blunt when characterizing the relationship.
“I don’t trust them,” Cobb said while voicing his objection to the WLFN seeking a letter of support for inclusion of the 150 Mile Ranch land into WLFN land.
“It’s hard to build a relationship once that trust is broken. And in this case the trust is broken with our city council and that’s unfortunate.”
150 Mile House Ranch is leased to WLFN in exchange for land given to the province to expand Highway 97. The CRD also wanted to take the opportunity to tweak their fire services agreement.
“We feel there is an opportunity for a clearer, more concise agreement that will serve both communities as we face the challenges and opportunities of the future,” the CRD’s response letter reads.
The letter said the district in general has no problem with WLFN adding the ranch to its reserve land.
The CRD’s directors passed a resolution to send the letter as it was written in a 12-3 vote.
Other directors pushed back against Cobb, calling for relationship building, and pointing out the district doesn’t have jurisdiction on any federal land.
“All of these lands are going to be settled at some point,” CRD director Angie Delainey said. “We have to come to the table and be able to work together. And that starts with building relationships and it starts with supporting each other.”
Cobb said the city had a good relationship with the WLFN until they announced plans to build a cannabis cultivation facility on WLFN land inside Williams Lake without consultation with the city.
Regarding the letter of support, Cobb said he was concerned about the tax exemption and loss of control over the land, which is located in a rural residential area.
“My concern is what they can do with that land,” Cobb said. “Tomorrow, or two years down the road … they could decide to put a huge subdivision there, they could decide to make that ranch a feed lot … once it becomes a reserve, we have absolutely no say on rezoning or what use they want to use that land for. We will be told to go fly a kite.”
When contacted by the Tribune, Chief Willie Sellars, who wasn’t at the meeting, said he had no comment regarding Cobb’s statements, but did note he was grateful for the work of the Cariboo Regional District.
“Thank you to the CRD for the support. They are champions for this region, as are we,” Sellars said Tuesday.
He noted once the ranch becomes part of their reserve lands, they will own the property.
Sellars said WLFN plan to use the lands in the future to address food security issues in the community by building greenhouses. They may also consider some new residential development as well as cannabis cultivation opportunities.
Currently the 150 Mile Ranch runs about 50 head of cattle, some of which the WLFN have been harvesting for the community to offset the loss of salmon this year.
Sellars said being unable to fish for salmon due to historically low returns is a devastating loss for First Nations.