Cheam Chief Ernie Crey of Chilliwack has been actively touting the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, not only for his own people of the Pilalt tribe, but for other Indigenous communities struggling to rise out of poverty.
“If the project doesn’t go through, it’ll hurt our people,” Crey said.
The Cheam leader was in Ottawa Monday preparing to appear this week before on a parliamentary committee considering changes to the National Energy Board and other regulatory bodies under bill c-69.
Crey has been active on social media and in the mainstream media trying to disabuse everyone of the notion that First Nations are united in lockstep opposition to the pipeline expansion.
It’s not so black and white, he has argued, and there is no homogeneity on the pipeline issue, despite how it is being portrayed by some.
A provincial leader came out publicly against the pipeline but that opposition didn’t take into account those communities who favour exploring the benefits of the expansion project, the local chief said.
Former Soowahlie chief and pipeline opponent Larry Commodore took issue with Chief Crey’s media blitz showing support for the project.
“Ernie should spend some time talking with the overwhelming majority of Indigenous elders and hereditary and elected leaders across Turtle Island who have voiced their opposition to tarsands expansion, which the KM pipeline expansion would be a key part of.
“He would learn they are more than just a bunch of uninformed dupes, as he seems to think.”
Crey used the term “red-washing” to describe the view that green groups are co-opting First Nations to further their agendas “under an Indigenous flag.”
“Trust me, their goals and aspirations are far different from ours,” Crey tweeted last week. “Check out where they’ve trashed Indigenous economies to meet their ends.”
As co-chair of the Indigenous Advisory & Monitoring Committee, a committee to undertake the monitoring of the pipeline during and after construction, as well as chief of Cheam First Nation, which has signed mutual benefit agreements with Kinder Morgan, Crey has a decidedly different view than pipeline opponents.
“The perpetrators of urban myths and wishful thinking around the Kinder Morgan (TMX) expansion are getting called out big time today,” he wrote. “The media in both B.C. and Alberta have discovered that there isn’t wall to wall opposition to KM’s expansion among B.C. and Alberta First Nations.”
There are 43 Indigenous communities who have signed benefit agreements, MBAs, with Kinder Morgan, and who may want to “buy into” the project, Crey underlined.
For example it took years for Cheam officials to negotiate security jobs for Cheam members to work the pipeline route.
The chief sees the economic relationships being built as a way for some communities to step up “out of poverty” if they get the “right” backing. They would consider putting some money toward the pipeline twinning construction, as in equity for the project, if they were to have a lengthy discussion about it.
“This pipeline, which is very important to me, fits into the realm of economic reconciliation,” Crey said. “It might become the bootstrap from which First Nations pull themselves out of crushing poverty.”
Chief Crey wondered in a tweet if “oil by rail” isn’t more dangerous.
“A derailment of tanker cars in the Fraser Canyon would mean the oil would end-up in the salt chuck. Best choice, pipe or rail?” he asked rhetorically.
When he commented in 2016 for a TMX panel however, he was more worried about the impact of a pipeline spill on the Coquihalla.
“I sit up nights wondering what a spill into the Coquihalla River might look like.
“Even a small spill into the Coquihalla would devastate salmon in the Fraser River and plunge First Nations into utter destitution. Global trade, investment, jobs: I know those are important, but consider what could be lost.”