Mayor apologizes for sharing residential schools post — but says he's 'annoyed' First Nation made issue public

·4 min read
'We could've probably solved a lot of problems, solved a lot of heartbreak, if the decision hadn't had been made to go to the press prior to even contacting me,' Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, seen here in 2017, told CBC on Wednesday. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)
'We could've probably solved a lot of problems, solved a lot of heartbreak, if the decision hadn't had been made to go to the press prior to even contacting me,' Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, seen here in 2017, told CBC on Wednesday. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of Williams Lake, B.C., has said he is sorry for sharing an online post claiming there was an "other side" to residential schools, but in an interview Wednesday he expressed annoyance with the local First Nation for making the issue public.

Mayor Walt Cobb apologized first during a council meeting Tuesday, days after the chief of the Williams Lake First Nation called for his resignation. He said he reshared the post to his private Facebook page.

"I never anticipated or intended to offend or make light of the residential schools — and for those I offended, I apologize and I'm seriously sorry, very, very, sorry," Cobb said.

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, the mayor reiterated his apology but said he was "annoyed" with the nation for taking the issue to the city and the media rather than raising it with him personally, since it was on his private page.

"This article was on my private site — [on] which I post jokes, I post a lot of things — but it's not on my 'Mayor Walt Cobb' site. So there is a difference ... but as was pointed out last night by one of the council members, I don't have a private life. So, it is what is is. I did my apologies and I am seriously sorry," Cobb said on CBC's Daybreak Kamloops.

"What really annoyed me most is we had an agreement with the Williams Lake First Nation ... that if we had differences on anything, that we would not be doing it in the media. I just found that this was a little ..." he said, trailing off.

"We could've probably solved a lot of problems, solved a lot of heartbreak, if the decision hadn't had been made to go to the press prior to even contacting me.

"Anyway, it is what it is ... hopefully, we can move on."

Chief says mayor's comments 'very unfortunate to hear'

Chief Willie Sellars spoke on Daybreak Kamloops immediately after Cobb's interview ended and said the mayor's comments weren't a surprise.

"It is expected that he take the stance that he did," Sellars said.

"We felt that that was a very backhanded apology last night. It lacked substance and sincerity, and again we hear it in his interview this morning, blaming the Williams Lake First Nation for getting him into this uncomfortable situation. That is very unfortunate to hear."

Cobb said Wednesday he will not be resigning and still plans to run for re-election next year.

Laureen Carruthers
Laureen Carruthers

The post he shared claimed there were positive aspects of residential schools but that young Indigenous people "just want to be victims" seeking money, and that most survivors had "forgiven." It claimed to have been written by someone with Indigenous family members.

Cobb said Wednesday he shared the post after it was forwarded by several contacts because "he felt that there was a need for people to know what was being said out there."

The Facebook post has since been deleted.

LISTEN | Cobb and Sellars speak about the post in back-to-back interviews on Wednesday:

Councillor apologized for similar comments

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century, until the final site closed in 1996. The 2015 final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada chronicled abuses suffered by Indigenous children at federally funded, church-run institutions.

In August, First Nations in the Williams Lake area began a ground-penetrating radar search for unmarked graves at the site of the local residential school, St. Joseph's Mission, which closed in 1981. The search is ongoing, and Sellars said an announcement on the findings is possible in the coming months.

Sellars, whose father was forced to go to St. Joseph's Mission, said he wanted the mayor's position to be made available to someone "more open-minded to the process of reconciliation."

Cobb is not the first person on council in Williams Lake to make comments claiming an "other side" to residential schools. Coun. Marnie Brenner said "there are always two sides" during a discussion about the institutions in June 2020.

Like the mayor, she later apologized.

On Tuesday, councillors Scott Nelson, Sheila Boehm, Jason Ryll, Ivan Bonnell and Craig Smith spoke to condemn Cobb's actions. Ryll suggested Cobb reconsider his decision to run again.

Sellars commended those councillors, but said collaboration will be difficult.

"That's encouraging to see. It does give me hope we can work with this council. But until they start holding each other accountable in that office, it's going to be challenging moving forward to continue to work together."

Later in the meeting Tuesday, council passed two motions officially condemning the history of residential schools and committing to be guided in future by the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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