The crowd at Tzeachten Community Hall was peppered with red serge and gratitude more than 60 years after Ed ‘Hawk’ Kelly Jr. became the first ever Indigenous officer to join the RCMP.
Kelly said he was “deeply honoured” to see such a large turnout of well-wishers Wednesday in Chilliwack.
“My childhood dream was to become a Mountie, a member of the Queen’s cowboys as they used to call us,” Kelly said.
It certainly wasn’t “easy” to be the first Indigenous member to join the force when Kelly did, said Inspector Dee Stewart, Officer in Charge of Indigenous Policing Unit, during her presentation.
“You took a step in 1959 and I’m here to acknowledge that I know it wasn’t an easy one,” she told Kelly.
“But if there were never any firsts, there wouldn’t be me,” she said. “Today standing before you is an Indigenous woman in charge of Indigenous policing.”
The deliberate act of recognition was important, Stewart said, and ingrained in First Nations culture, even though Kelly tried to say what he did wasn’t special, he was just following his dream.
Insp. Stewart was flanked by retired RCMP Constable Janet Terbasket, and several Indigenous officers in red serge to stress the importance of what Kelly achieved in his four years on the force as an RCMP officer.
“You are part of our family, whether it was for a long time or a short time,” Stewart told Kelly.
“I hope you feel validated today, that your career choice with the RCMP was the right choice, because it led you to several other opportunities for service within your community, and the RCMP.”
The officer told Kelly that “the people behind you want to say thank you” for being the first.
“Nobody stands alone, and nobody runs a unit alone,” Stewart said, her voice again faltering with the power of emotion.
There were Sto:lo Chiefs and Grand Chiefs in attendance, as well as Indigenous Policing Unit officers, dignitaries and RCMP brass at the event on June 26.
There was even someone from Kelly’s Grade 1 class in Vancouver, who he hadn’t set eyes on in about 74 years, who arrived with a bouquet of flowers and a few stories to offer.
Chilliwack’s top cop, Supt. Bryon Massie called it a “very, very important day” for the force and he thanked Kelly for the service to his community.
“You are part of history,” Massie said.
There were many people reconnecting or making connections through Kelly in the community hall, which was apt since the whole idea for the recognition event actually stemmed from social media conversations and connections forged on Facebook.
There were prayers, songs, and drumming to touch the heart, as well as tears, laughter, and gratitude. There were friends, family, troop members, acquaintances, and local officials to wish the guest of honour well, as they were also celebrating his 80th birthday. There was a beautiful catered lunch to enjoy after the open mic and closing remarks, and several memories made that day.