Ernie Crey says childhood in foster care inspired 'life-long mission'
It's time for aboriginal communities to take responsibility for their own children, says lifelong advocate
The new chief councillor of the Cheam First Nation says his plan to help his community reduce the number of its children in government care is inspired by his own experience in foster care during the 1960s.
Ernie Crey was taken from the Cheam First Nation as a boy and placed into foster care in what is now known as the 'Sixties Scoop,' when the provinces took over child protection on reserves from the then-Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
That was the start of bad times for children in many aboriginal communities in Canada, and the time has come to turn that legacy around, says Crey
"In our community, as is true for many many aboriginal communities in Canada, certainly in B.C. and my home territory, the bands themselves, the communities, have to take greater responsibility for their children," he said.
"And that's what we're gearing up to do in my community — reduce the number of children in care."
Crey has previously worked as a councillor in the Cheam First Nation. He was elected chief councillor of the band last month.
Returning as chief councillor
Crey says being elected chief councillor in the home he was forced to leave as a child "means a great deal" to him.
He remembers carefree days in the Cheam community, foraging for hops with his relatives.
"It was a very small tight-knit community. I knew that literally everyone there was a relative, an aunt, a cousin. I was related to everyone in the community."
He says fewer people on the reserve relied on the government for economic aid back then.
"Back in that era, there was full employment for aboriginal people. There was very little welfare."
But when his father died, Crey became part of the first wave of aboriginal children in Canada to be taken from their communities and put into foster care. He says that experience influenced his entire career as an advocate for aboriginal rights.
"It's really shaped my life and also propelled me along his path to become concerned with human rights, with the welfare and well-being of aboriginal families and children — and to pursue things that I feel, would contribute to improving the social and economic circumstances of our communities so that we see less and less of this removal of children."
He says this position may in fact be a career-topper for him.
"I've tried to be first and foremost, self-respecting and respecting of others and to try as best I can to do good things in the community, so you might say it was a bit of a lifelong mission for me."
To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Ernie Crey, Cheam First Nation's chief councillor.