Public Apology from the Government of Canada Related to the Williams Lake First Nation Village Claim


Date: September 10, 2023

Apology Text

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN), also known as T'exelc, are Indigenous Secwepemc people. From time immemorial, T'exelc used and depended on a large territory in the central interior of British Columbia (BC). During that time, T'exelc people followed a seasonal round that promoted sustainability. This included establishing villages in key locations which provided access to a variety of resources year round, and travelling seasonally throughout their territory to engage in traditional and cultural activities.

One of the most important village sites historically used and occupied by the T'exelc is an area located at the west end of Williams Lake (the “Village Lands”). This place, the lake and the City of Williams Lake are all named after Chief William. However, in the early years of colonization the Village Lands were not protected for WLFN.

In around 1859 Chief William gave permission to a settler to build a cabin and cultivate a garden within their Village Lands. After such kindness was given, the events that followed fundamentally interrupted WLFN’s relationship to the Village Lands.

In June 1861, the colonial government ordered that an Indian reserve be set aside in whatever place the T’exelc identified. However the local official at Williams Lake never carried out the order and between July and November 1861 much of the Village Lands, including most of the available farm land, was pre-empted by settlers, contrary to colonial law. Those settlers drove the people of WLFN off the Village Lands and for years they were homeless taking refuge in the surrounding mountains, until they were offered a place to stay at St. Joseph’s mission about 12 miles southeast of the Village Lands.

When BC joined Confederation in 1871, the Government of Canada assumed responsibility over Indians and Indian lands in the province. During this period, Chief William of WLFN urged Canada to secure the Village Lands for WLFN. However, the Indian Reserve Commissioner refused on the basis that doing so would interfere with white men’s rights. Except for a handful of small parcels of WLFN graveyards and IR6 near Scout Island, Canada did not protect or compensate WLFN for any of the Village Lands.

For decades, WLFN has worked to have this terrible wrong corrected. WLFN took this matter all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada which determined that Canada breached its legal obligations to WLFN in relation to the Village Lands by allowing the Village Lands to be pre-empted contrary to colonial law, by failing to take steps to challenge unlawful pre-emptions of the Village Lands after Confederation, and by refusing to consider allotting the Village Lands for WLFN.

The dispossession and forced separation of WLFN from the Village Lands has had profound effects on WLFN, which continue today. This includes damaging their sacred connection to their homelands that had always sustained them, damaging their culture, desecration of grave sites, damaging their histories, traditions and identity inextricably connected to the Village Lands, and damaging their ability to continue to live sustainably relying on the Village Lands.

Canada recognizes that this village was an important place for the WLFN.  The Government of Canada accepts responsibility for this historic injustice to the WLFN,  and expresses its deep regret and sincere apology to WLFN for the harm suffered by being unlawfully and wrongly dispossessed and separated from WLFN Village Lands.

We are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to reach an agreed settlement with WLFN for this historic injustice and intend that this agreement will foster reconciliation.

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