Warning: This story deals with disturbing topics that may disturb and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.
The future of the mayor of Williams Lake, BC, will be debated Tuesday night after he shared a post on social media suggesting there is a “different side” to private schools.
A special council meeting has been convened where Walter Cobb’s sharing of the post – now deleted from his private Facebook account – is expected to be discussed.
As reported by the Williams Lake Tribune, the post claimed that “most of the older generation who suffered are long dead and gone or have forgiven,” and “it seems to me that many of the new generations just want to be victims and feel the money would solve their pain. ”
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Local First Nations called Cobb’s content sharing on October 29 an “approval” of the opinion expressed by the content, and called for his resignation.
“With the power he has as a leader in his community, he should stand by us and support us so we can make Williams Lake a better place,” said Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars.
“He can contribute to the healing journey. He is not, and he seems to want to discredit it by every chance he gets.”
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Cobb declined a request for an interview from Global News, but said he would address the issue after the council meeting.
Sellars called Cobb’s stance on residential schools, which was found to be “cultural genocide” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, “immediate and discouraging.”
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The two-term mayor, who is also a former MLA, has a history of making comments that minimize the impact of residential schools or degrade First Nations people, Tŝilhqot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse added.
“We want to hold this mayor and city council accountable,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of good people in the town of Williams Lake, but they are not represented by this mentality.”
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Chief administrative officer Gary Muraca said the city addresses the concerns of the First Nations “sincerely and seriously,” in response to an open letter from Sellars, which was posted on its website Saturday.
Murray Rankin, BC’s minister of indigenous relations and reconciliation, said he did not see the mayor’s post on social media before it was deleted, but its message is “deeply hurtful to indigenous peoples.”
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He said he was “deeply disappointed” that an elected official would support that kind of content, and urged Cobb to “be educated” in residential schools by learning firsthand from local First Nations.
“Survivors from residential schools and victims of intergenerational trauma are toppling over the discoveries over the past few months in schools,” he told Global News.
“I think it’s important that we in public life take responsibility for the things we say and do, and I would urge him to take responsibility for those comments.”
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St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake operated from 1886 to 1981 and has since been demolished.
In June, Williams Lake First Nation launched a search of its grounds for unmarked burial sites using ground-penetrating radar.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or anxiety as a result of their private school experience.
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