Despite the challenges presented during the COVID-19 pandemic, a First Nations community in B.C.’s Interior is moving forward with an $8 million construction project.
During a social distancing official ground-breaking event Monday, April 6 at T’exelc (Williams Lake Indian Band) where a new administration building will be constructed, Chief Willie Sellars said it’s becoming the new norm quite quickly.
“There’s a certain irony and sadness that this important moment would take place in the midst of a global pandemic that forces us to remain physically distanced from others.”
He pointed to orange markers on the ground indicated where people should stand at least two meters apart.
Health and safety of workers around the world is of utmost importance, Sellars noted, adding WLIB would not be moving forward with the project if safety measures could not be guaranteed.
Cultural co-ordinator David Archie opened the event with a traditional blessing and drumming.
“We wanted to have a ceremony this morning to recognize all the people who are coming together to make this vision a reality,” Archie said.
“I will be presenting some medicine from our lands — sage — and for those of you who have water bottles who want to come forward to offer a prayer or well wish for this project and the safety of our community to come forward and pour the water into the abalone shell.”
Sellars said as a young leader he learned from former council members the importance of breaking ground in a traditional way.
“This project is a decade in the making and is truly a historic moment for our community.”
The new 18,000 square foot building was the vision of his predecessor and mentor, former Chief Ann Louie, Sellars added.
“She dreamed of bringing our organization together under one roof in an environment that would inspire our staff and create pride in our community.”
Federal and provincial government funds in the amount of a $1.4 million infrastructure grant will go toward the more than $8 million dollar total cost of the project.
Lauren Bros Construction Ltd. is the lead contractor on the project and Lake Excavating Ltd., a long-time partner with WLIB, will do the site preparation, Sellars explained, adding subcontracting elements will be sourced locally and as many WLIB members who can be hired will.
Inside the new building there will be a public display gathering area featuring art and cultural artifacts and items that will showcase the history of the Secwepemc people’s rich heritage. It will also contain an archaelogy lab, the first of its kind for the region, to help the Williams Lake Indian Band pursue preserving artifacts.
He referenced the Mount Polley Mine tailings breach in 2014, the wildfires in 2018 and now the COVID-19 pandemic all contributing to what he described as the project being a critical way of helping the region recover.
Construction began Monday morning and Dale Lauren of Lauren Bros. said it will take about 14 months to complete the project.
“This building is a flagship and momentous structure that will live beyond the generations that are standing here. It’s a great project for not only WLIB, but Lauren Bros Construction as well.”
Lauren said the company is extremely proud to be part of the project.
“We have a history of keeping our projects as locally as we can with local subcontractors, labour, suppliers, all that will be sourced from the Cariboo and mostly Williams Lake.”
There will be lots of wood accents, steel and natural finishes throughout the ‘elegant’ structure, he added.
Sellars said historically the Secwepemc people suffered through small pox and over centuries experienced starvation, residential school, and numerous challenges, yet people have survived.
“We will make it through this terrible time of the COVID-19 virus and when we do this building will serve as a reminder of the resilience of the Williams Lake Indian Band the people of the Cariboo generally.”