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iN VIDEO: Williams Lake councillor apologizes for residential school comments

Marnie Brenner, bottom right, is being asked to resign from the Williams Lake city council after making comments about reconciliation and residential schools.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Williams Lake
June 18, 2020 - 3:30 PM

A Williams Lake councillor has offered an apology and explanation for inflammatory comments made at a recent meeting that have prompted the Williams Lake Indian Band Council to call for her resignation.

Band Chief Willie Sellars called comments from councillor Marnie Brenner made about residential schools in a June 16 meeting an "incredible outrage." Brenner is, herself, of Indigenous ancestry.

“I’ve also heard stories of where people, when they shut down the schools… like in Riske Creek and stuff where they’ve been disappointed that they had to leave residential school because they had a pool there... I don’t want anybody to take offence that I put it out there, but there are always two sides,” Brenner said during the meeting.

Mayor Walt Cobb also chimed in and added the residential school also had a hockey team.

“Enough is enough,” Sellars said in a media release. “Can you imagine if a government official in the United States stood up and said that slavery wasn’t such a bad thing because black Americans were fed and had a roof over their heads? There would be incredible outrage, and rightfully so. We are in an era where the vast majority of people, including elected officials, are working hard to acknowledge the problems of the past and to root out systemic discrimination. The fact that Councillor Brenner is herself a First Nations individual makes it even worse.”

The comments came from a discussion about a cannabis facility being proposed for band land that closely borders Williams Lake. While Williams Lake councillors have no input on that land use, they insisted on soliciting feedback from residents largely because of access to other amenities in the area. At the meeting, Brenner addressed what she said were comments from Williams Lake band councillors that suggested truth and reconciliation was "why (Williams Lake councillors) were not to interfere" in the project. 

Brenner is a First Nations woman raised with a non-indigenous family, and said at the council meeting that part of truth and reconciliation is healing, which lies on the individual.

“We are not responsible for their healing. They are completely responsible for their own healing… we need to really be aware that truth and reconciliation, and that mutual respect, needs to go both ways,” Brenner said in the meeting.

Chief Willie Sellars and the Williams Lake Indian band council are urging Brenner to resign and is asking for an apology from the whole city council to First Nations in Canada.

“It’s shocking, upsetting and offensive… that in 2020 any elected officials would try to downplay the importance of reconciliation, or a local government’s obligations in relation to reconciliation, by suggesting that residential schools weren’t really such a bad thing. Our community, and First Nations communities across the country, are still struggling to overcome the impacts of residential schools. Children were ripped from their homes, they were stripped of their culture and language and they were physically and sexually abused. The reality, though, is that there was only one residential school in this area – St. Joseph’s. Apparently Councillor Brenner isn’t aware of that,” Williams Lake Indian Band councillor JoAnne Moiese said in the release. reached out to Brenner for an interview, but she instead gave an emailed statement.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology for my comments at the Council meeting on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, and to clarify my position with some context. As an aboriginal woman adopted by a non-aboriginal family in the 1960s, I have my own thoughts about reconciliation and other contemporary Indigenous issues because of my lived experience. I acknowledge my words were poorly chosen and may have come across as insensitive and I apologize to those who thought they were a slight against survivors of residential schools and were hurt by them. This was not my intention. Rather, it was to highlight the importance and value of honest, open dialogue around truth and reconciliation, especially around the many difficult things that aboriginal people face daily. It’s a discussion that I believe needs to continue as we move forward together,” reads Brenner’s statement.

Brenner denied further requests for an interview. Williams Lake mayor Walt Cobb has yet to respond to a request for an interview.

“It disturbs me that anyone would attempt to diminish the impact that residential schools had on First Nations communities,” Williams Lake Indian Band councillor Rick Gilbert said in the release. “We hear people say things like, ‘Just get over it, it wasn’t such a big deal.’ Clearly, those people are not understanding the gravity of the issue or the impacts it has had on Canadian society for generations now. People need to educate themselves about the realities of this piece of Canadian history.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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