WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — The mayor of Williams Lake, B.C., has apologized for reposting a social media comment that suggested there are “two sides” to the history of residential schools.
Walt Cobb made the comments Tuesday night when council addressed an open letter from Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars, who called the post a “slap in the face” to First Nations.
Cobb told the council meeting he is “seriously sorry” and “never intended to offend or make light” of residential schools.
But he also said the post was on his personal Facebook page, not the one for the mayor’s office, so he considers the complaint to council a personal attack.
Sellars expressed his disappointment with the apology on Wednesday.
“He came out blaming the Williams Lake First Nation for getting him into this uncomfortable situation,” he said in an interview.
All six Williams Lake councillors spoke after Cobb at the meeting, and none asked for his resignation.
Coun. Scott Nelson called the repost “repugnant,” while Coun. Jason Ryll said the “quick click and share” undermines council’s work toward reconciliation.
Leaders of the Williams Lake First Nation had urged Cobb to resign. Charlene Belleau, the former chief of the Esk’etemc First Nation, told council it should take steps to ensure what happened can’t be repeated.
Council unanimously passed a motion to be guided by the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to add its recommendations to the city’s official community plan.
In a prepared statement, Cobb said he did not paraphrase or indicate support for the reposted article. Because he used his personal Facebook page, he said it was not “fair” to involve council in the discussion.
Cobb said he is ready to meet with all involved to “find the common ground that we all strive for.”
Sellars said statements of support from other council members, Indigenous governments, non-Indigenous people and politicians from across the country have been encouraging, and if Cobb wants to talk about reconciliation, the First Nation is waiting.
“If he’s not willing to advance the goal of reconciliation, show some empathy and sit together in unity, then he should step down from his post or reconsider running again next year for council,” he added.
Sellars said his nation is leading a search for possible grave sites at the former Saint Joseph’s Indian Residential School in Williams Lake, using the same equipment that led to the finding of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The incident with the mayor represents a step backwards for healing in the community, he said.
“There’s a massive amount of triggers that come from comments like that,” he said.
Belleau told the meeting on Tuesday that Cobb and council have not lived up to a recent partnership agreement with the First Nation, but she expected Cobb’s actions would be investigated.
“We will be watching every move,” she said.
“You know, our elders tell us that when you make one mistake, maybe we can forgive you. Make two? You’ve got challenges.”
— By Beth Leighton and Terri Theodore in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2021.
The Canadian Press