Why this B.C. First Nation supports government's Trans Mountain pipeline purchase

The chief of Cheam First Nation in B.C. is relieved the Trudeau government will buy the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion.

'Promises made, promises kept,' says Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey

Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey stands on the banks of the Fraser river in Cheam First Nation 100 or so kilometres east of Vancouver. (Nick Purdon/CBC )
Listen6:46

The federal government has swooped in to save Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, but its future is anything but safe. Activists are promising unprecedented protests and the federal court has yet to weigh in.

But when Ernie Crey heard the news from Ottawa on Tuesday, he was relieved.

The chief of Cheam First Nation, just east of Chilliwack, B.C., not only supports the pipeline, he wants a piece of it. 

Crey spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here's a part of that conversation: 

Chief Crey, why are you interested in buying a stake in this pipeline?

It was something that was held out as a possibility, and the council here discussed that possibility. [If] the door opened to that opportunity, would we be interested? And we are. But it would depend on the particulars. 

What is your First Nation hoping to get out of being part of this pipeline, having signed a benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan? 

Well, I thought a few years back, that actually the pipeline should have been built by a consortium of First Nations from Northern Alberta through British Columbia. I thought we should be the ones to build it. 

But that wasn't to be, and obviously Kinder Morgan was on the scene.

We're still, at this stage, staunch supporters of this pipeline.-Chief Ernie Crey

So, we moved to the next best option, which was to pursue mutual benefits agreements with Kinder Morgan.

And we were a long time in those negotiations — over a year. Very intense. 

But Kinder Morgan will be exiting stage right, and now the government of Canada will own the pipeline. Now, we're looking at this opportunity that was hinted at in yesterday's announcement, that this door may open to us, and we'd seriously consider it. 

Thousands of people march together during a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby, B.C., on March 10. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The impression that people have is that overwhelmingly, First Nations  — in British Columbia, in particular — are opposed to the pipeline. We spoke with Rueben George last night from Tsleil-Waututh Nation. He says there's absolutely no way they will allow this pipeline to be built. What kinds of conversations do you have with other First Nations?

I'd have to be the first to say that I respect the position taken by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. But, in their case, they're pursuing their differences with the government of Canada in the courts.

But there are a lot of players on the scene, from hither and yon, that don't live along the pipeline route and can't lay any claim to Aboriginal title or interests along the Kinder Morgan route, who are making all sorts of statements, taking a stance in opposition to the pipeline.

They have no skin in the game. When it comes to Cheam, it's right in our traditional territory. 

We're going to have further discussions with the government of Canada with this, but we're still, at this stage, staunch supporters of this pipeline, and we want to hear it go ahead.

Because you accept what Ottawa says, that this pipeline is going to be built, there's no way around that. That's what we're hearing from [Finance Minister] Bill Morneau and [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau.

What I've said is promise made, promise kept.

We were happy at that announcement, because we're so heavily involved as a community a number of ways.

One is job training, and jobs. And we've also partnered with 13 companies in joint ventures, some are local, and some are of national stature, and our joint ventures have to do with construction of the pipeline.

Some of us were holding our breath yesterday, but we didn't have to hold it long. The government of Canada said we're going to fulfil our promise. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan last month. The leaders of the neighbouring provinces have been feuding over the Trans Mountain expansion. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

You know, it's not just First Nations. There is a large environmental movement, in B.C. principally, and across Canada, who are opposed to this pipeline. You have said that you believe that they are 'red-washing' their movement. What do you mean by that? 

They know that on their own, not involving the First Nation, lots of the things that are being countenanced right now would not be countenanced.

So they've decided to reach out, approach First Nations with smiles and ingratiating ways, to slip their agenda under an Aboriginal flag, and that way enjoy what they would regard as protections for things.

If they were trying to pursue on their own, just would not happen.

How do you feel about that?

In the recent past, these organizations have stepped up and literally trashed First Nations enterprises in this country, like the commercial trapping in Northern parts of Canada and on the East coast.

They worked hard with the likes of Paul McCartney and Brigitte Bardot to kill the commercial seal hunt.

In both instances, the people that were left to suffer the consequences of their actions were the Indigenous people.

So I've been cautioning my colleagues in British Columbia, just be aware of who you're counting as a friend, because those folks have their own agenda and they don't necessarily match up with ours.