Edward “Hawk” Kelly Jr. will be honoured in Chilliwack on June 26 for becoming the first Indigenous person in the history of the force to serve in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Because he was the first, Kelly effectively paved the way for hundreds of police officers of First Nations ancestry who followed in his footsteps.
“I feel so humbled by all of this,” Kelly told The Progress.
The celebration will mark Kelly’s 80th birthday, as well as the 60 years since he graduated in 1959 from the RCMP Training Academy, known as “Depot.”
There are now about 150 RCMP members serving across B.C. who hail from First Nations communities.
Kelly was sworn in as a member in 1958, and then completed his RCMP training at Depot in 1959, two years after he graduated from Chilliwack secondary.
“I didn’t actually know at the time that I was the first status Indian to serve,” Kelly said. “I just applied for the job that had been my dream job as a child. I always wanted to become a Mountie.”
Nicknamed “Hawk” by his grandfather, Kelly said he earned the name as a kid because he had sharp eyes like a hawk.
The next day after his graduation from Depot, Kelly boarded a train and headed out to his first posting in Edmonton, to guard the cell blocks, before moving on to serve as a constable in the Westlock detachment.
Kelly served as an RCMP officer for about five years, in varying capacities. Kelly later served as Tzeachten Chief for two terms, worked for tribal police, and was a park ranger for BC Parks for almost 20 years.
So what made him decide to become an RCMP officer all those years ago?
It was the impressive-looking uniform, especially the red serge, that made him want to be an officer as a child, Kelly replied. The idea that he could really “help people” right across Canada fuelled his dream of becoming a Mountie.
Kelly’s role as the “first” was little known, until it came up recently when he was contacted through Facebook by some, including an RCMP inspector, who felt his achievement should receive some formal recognition.
The public is invited to join members of the RCMP Indigenous Policing Services, as well as Tzeachten First Nation, and Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe, friends and family for the special event to honour Kelly. The celebration is at Tzeachten Hall at 45855 Promontory Road on Wednesday, June 26, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. RSVP by email to firstname.lastname@example.org