Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation was the featured speaker on Thursday, June 21 in Calgary as Kinder Morgan Canada and Trans Mountain Pipeline staff commemorated National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Chief Crey has advocated for Indigenous rights in Canada through a variety of careers spanning six decades. The Cheam community is located in the Upper Fraser Valley near Rosedale, British Columbia and has a foundational connection to fishing and protection of the environment. Crey is also co-chair of the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee (IAMC) for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, established to address common issues and priorities raised by Indigenous communities potentially impacted by the Project.

The origins of National Indigenous Peoples Day (previously referred to as National Aboriginal Day) date back to the Second World War. In 1996, the Canadian government officially declared a national day of celebration to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

Trans Mountain spoke with Chief Crey prior to the event in Calgary.

“I’ve always been very appreciative of the people who were the first advocates of this day,” Crey said. “The choice of day is wise, because it’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year.

“I think it has captured the imaginations of Indigenous people across the country, that there is a special day for this recognition of our existence and by extension, our special place in Canada.”

Crey noted that a “good percentage” of Canadians now recognize that June 21 is both the first day of summer and National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“I notice the events held across the country, which are a mixture of social and cultural gatherings, attract non-Indigenous people and that Canadians do turn out in good numbers to participate and celebrate with Indigenous people. I’m very happy when I see that kind of thing.”

On a personal note, Crey added, “June 21 is also my birthday.”

“I accepted the invitation from Trans Mountain — it is in keeping with what I have done all along. I’ve devoted a lot of my professional career to the Aboriginal community to try to help change things where the social and economic standing of Indigenous people are concerned.

“People expressed surprise that I’m for the completion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. I did so for a number of reasons. There’s already a pipeline there. There’s a need for a new pipeline — one with greater capacity so the product can be moved from Alberta to dockside and off to markets.

“I know there are many, many First Nation communities along the pipeline route both in Alberta and British Columbia that depend on projects like this to create economic opportunities for their communities, along with training and jobs.

“You’ll have Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working on a major project together and their separate communities benefiting from it. As it’s being built, and when it’s completed, they will be able to look at it and be proud together about the work they’ve done.”

Crey noted that opportunities for Indigenous communities to participate in major infrastructure projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion are relatively new. “From what I can see, major efforts were made in this case to talk with the First Nations, try to capture their interests, to hold out opportunities and 43 of them have come forward and said yes, we want in, we want to participate.

“Our population is quite young, relative to the larger population. If they’re on better economic footing as families, as communities, then everything after that comes more easily. There is money to support social and cultural activities in communities. So I see it as a boon to communities, economically as well as socially and culturally.”

Crey anticipates environmental benefits as well.

“Most Indigenous communities don’t have the funds to create the capacity to be stewards of the land. What we will be able to do as this pipeline is being built is go to work with the regulators to make sure our values are protected. We will be able to reassure our communities because we will actually be there to do the monitoring —  working with the regulators to make sure the things we feel deserve protection are protected.”