Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars recognized for ‘transformative governance’ with provincial award

Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars of Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN). Photo: Office of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia

Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars of Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) has been honoured with a provincial award in recognition of his community leadership.

The British Columbia Reconciliation Award is offered each year by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the BC Achievement Foundation. 

Sellars was one of six 2023 recipients who were recognized during a ceremony on Thursday evening at the Government House in lək̓ʷəŋən territories.

The other honourees were Dr. Danièle Behn Smith, Klith-waa-taa, Dr. Barney Williams, Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn, Last Post Fund – BC Branch, and The Exploration Place & Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. 

During the ceremony, Sellars was recognized for the countless projects he has led as  Kúkwpi7 of WLFN — showcasing the growth that can be achieved through collaboration and a community focus. 

He was first elected to WLFN’s council in 2008 and was elected chief in 2018. He is currently on his second term.

“The last five years have been transformative for WLFN, with more than $40 million in capital projects and development taking place on WLFN lands during that term,” the award website states, in part.

Sellars also led a collaborative effort to investigate the former residential “school” at St. Joseph’s Mission, which has been centred around community healing.

“His impactful negotiation of economic agreements and oversight of multimillion dollar projects displays transformative governance,” said Jerymy Brownridge, the executive director of Government House.

“Actively participating in St. Joseph’s Mission residential school investigation, Chief Sellars is committed to revitalizing culture and language, evident in the nation’s substantial investments.”

Brownridge co-hosted the event along with T’esóts’en Patrick Kelly who is a member of the selection committee.

Brownridge began with a land acknowledgement to the lək̓ʷəŋən people — the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. 

Music filled the room with each procession. First, by bagpipes, followed by the lək̓ʷəŋən dancers and drummers. These two different traditions symbolized bringing people together.

Kelly adorned a white robe and held an eagle feather as he acknowledged the province’s 28th lieutenant governor Steven Point (Xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl) and his idea for the reconciliation award — as well as current Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin for enacting those plans. This is the third year the awards have taken place. 

The honourees were led into the room by the lək̓ʷəŋən dancers and drummers. As each honouree stood atop a blanket as a symbol of honour, they were then gifted another blanket created by Musqueam master weavers Debra and Robyn Sparrow.

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Jamie Gentry also designed a canoe paddle to commemorate the 2023 award, with each recipient receiving a photo print of the paddle. 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs spoke on behalf of the honourees and about the concept of reconciliation.

“It’s a no brainer; love has always proved itself to be more powerful than hate, love has proved itself to be more more productive than hate, love has proved to be the solution to all of our issues and that we have within our own hearts,” he said.

Phillip said the honourees have made a difference in their communities, and everyone benefits from that progress.

“I know that the leaders that are in this room have lived through the challenges and the heartbreak and loneliness that leadership brings and I admire them further for their consistency and their courage to continue, because at the end of the day, it is about our children and grandchildren and their future.”

Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin recognized the violent colonial history of “Canada” and how her role “has come at the expense of Indigenous people” — saying she hopes to contribute to healing.

“To the recipients. I say thank you most wholeheartedly, for showing us the way you’re an inspiration to all British Columbians.”

Recipients from all three years of the awards were recognized during Thursday’s ceremony, which included honouring the late Chief T̓łaḵwagila Bill Cranmer, as well as Brendan Eshom, Grand Chief Phillip and Corporal Christopher Voller.

Submissions for the 2024 Reconciliation Award are open until Jan. 31.

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