Irons in the fire for Cheam First Nation

Ernie Crey was elected Cheam chief this past fall and he says there are longstanding projects to be completed in the near future

Ernie Crey

Cheam First Nation has earned a high profile over the years fighting for aboriginal rights and title – particularly around fishery issues.

Going forward under newly elected chief Ernie Crey, this is unlikely to change.

“I’m delighted, and I know it’s going to keep me very busy,” Crey said.

He spent a term as a band councillor before tossing his name into the hat for chief, and was elected Cheam chief this past fall.

“It was something I wanted to do for some time but it was also something that I was encouraged to consider by community members.”

Crey has worn different hats over the years: social worker, author, consultant, fisheries advisor, and dial-a-quote source for the media.

Now at 66, he’s an elder who wants to serve his community, while staying fairly close to home.

“Cheam has many irons in the fire and longstanding projects we want complete in the near future,” he said.

Cheam First Nation has slightly more than 500 registered band members, and are part of the Sto:lo Tribal Council. Less than half of the band members live on-reserve, located near Rosedale.

Key projects underway at Cheam, on Pilalt territory, include a new water system, a new complex to house health services and office administration, and completing the Cheam Fishing Village campground on the north side of the river.

“The new water system means we have better flow and water pressure for the entire community, which is something much appreciated by everyone.”

The Fishing Village campground, under development by the band, on the north side of the Fraser River was launched under the initiative of band councillor Darwin Douglas, and the Cheam Development Corporation.

“Soon it will be fully serviced at the Cheam Fishing Village. It’s on its way to becoming a successful operation and we’re hoping to expand,” said Crey.

They will be continuing the work at the site, and are preparing for the campground’s third season of offering stunning riverside vistas, and a handy boat launch on the Fraser, just downstream from the Agassiz-Rosedale bridge.

What is changing on the political front is the nature of the relationship between First Nations and the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Whereas in the past it was more paternalistic, and Cheam members were known to actively protest the various encroachments on their territory and resources, a shift is in the air these days.

It seems they’re heading toward a more equalized relationship, closer to the holy grail of nation-to-nation status.

“As always, Cheam is happy to work with others, like local governments and businesses who are respectful of our Aboriginal title and rights.

“What’s more, we are aware that the recent federal election may usher in changes for First Nations, including Cheam.

“We look forward to working with and seeing what we can accomplish together with Prime Minister Trudeau and his colleagues.”

The PM has made it clear he wants to dialogue, on equal footing with the First Nations of Canada.

“He said this with a view to helping our communities address the social and economic development issues we have,” said Crey. “That would include education, and lifting the two-per-cent cap.

“I do think that means we are going to see some movement on some longstanding issues that were previously stalled, as a result of a terribly fractured relationship we had with government.”

They will be breaking ground on the new health complex very soon.

“The community is very interested in general in seeing us do the entrepreneurial thing. It creates employment and income for the band, but it is also good for encouraging partnerships with the surrounding communities.”

The Cheam band is also getting ready to discuss enacting a land code.

“We’re preparing to adopt our own code, but before we do that we will talk about why we want one,” Crey said. “It will give us full responsibility, control, management and planning of our lands. It also means we will at long last be severing the cord, and cutting ties with Indian and Northern Affairs department, so we can call the shots, and be independent.”