First Indigenous spiritual advisor reflects on anniversary

Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel carries the Eagle Staff.

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

This is the second of a two-part series about the Canadian Armed Forces first Indigenous Advisor to the Chaplain General. In the first part, Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel is interviewed by Grant Cree in the Western Sentinel (Edmonton) about his new role. In the second part, Sgt Tetrault-Hamel reflects on what he has accomplished during his first year in the position. Refer to Related Links to see the second article.

Ottawa, Ontario — As the earth completed another revolution around the sun in August 2017, Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel celebrated objectives reached during his first year in the newly created position of Indigenous Advisor to the Chaplain General of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

Brigadier-General Guy Chapdelaine is a solid advocate of evolving the chaplaincy to better reflect the faith systems of Canadian society. He directs the training of about 250 Regular Force and 115 Reserve Force Chaplains of various denominations. In equal measure, he strongly supports the training and knowledge transfer of Indigenous spirituality to his team.

“Chaplains are called to serve all CAF members and their families regardless of faith. I expect every chaplain to care for all, even those who have no faith. I am delighted that Sergt Tetrault-Hamel has joined our team to help us to answer the spiritual needs of our Indigenous members,” said BGen Chapdelaine.

The need for the position of Indigenous Advisor was identified by the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) in 2004. As a follow-up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 2015 report Calls to Action, a common effort was made between the Chaplain General’s office and the Canadian Armed Forces Directorate of Human Rights and Diversity (DHRD) to develop a strategic approach to Indigenous issues.

Sgt Tetrault-Hamel was selected by leading Indigenous members of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) to fill the position in 2016. In his many-faceted and ever-expanding role, Sgt Tetrault-Hamel joins his Indigenous knowledge with his extensive military experience to cultivate greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of DND/CAF.

Army Command Chaplain Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Bélisle said, “Sgt. Tetrault-Hamel is a great asset to the Chaplaincy, and to the Forces as a whole. He has been instrumental in assisting the Chain of Command and leadership of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service, as advisor, in providing an inclusive and open workspace for Indigenous Canadians.  I encourage Chaplains and the Commanders to make use of his expertise whenever they have questions or need.”

Sgt Tetrault-Hamel explained, however, that he is not a chaplain. “With so many different Indigenous cultures in Canada, it is not possible to speak on behalf of all of them to perform that role,” he said.

This is why in his role as advisor, he sources the required information from a national network of Elders and Knowledge Keepers; assists Chaplains with Indigenous spiritual practices at bases; develops and delivers courses to Chaplains; liaises with national and provincial Indigenous officials; and provides DND/CAF-wide advice on Indigenous issues.

Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, Commander Canadian Army (CCA), is the current DND/CAF Champion for Indigenous Peoples. For matters specific to the Army, Sgt Tetrault-Hamel works closely with Master Warrant Officer Grant Greyeyes, who is the Indigenous Advisor to the CCA.

In addition, Sgt Tetrault-Hamel works collaboratively with the DHRD and the DAAG organizations. An important objective is the development of various supports to Indigenous members of DND/CAF in general, including retention strategies and procedures for transitioning out of the military and back into their communities.

Reflecting on the first year on the job

August 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of this new position. For the occasion, Sgt Tetrault-Hamel reflected on the challenges and triumphs of his first year on the job.

Q1: What was your greatest challenge this past year?

A:  To heal ignorance, you must seek specific knowledge capable of filling the voids in understanding. However, the challenges are primarily where the voids have already been filled with misinformation and misunderstandings. In these cases, you must dig deep to isolate the core of the problems and replace them with solutions. It takes time and effort but it is greatly efficient if done properly.

In Canada, you cannot work on any Indigenous topics without first building further Indigenous awareness. Over the past year, I had the opportunity to build much-needed Indigenous awareness with our decision makers in Ottawa.

When drafting new policies in relation to our Indigenous People, the process of approvals involve many areas of expertise. It is important to first ensure that the subject matter experts fully understand what they are reviewing from an Indigenous perspective prior to allowing them the opportunity to share their specific professional recommendations.

Q2: Why is it important to stand for our Indigenous soldiers’ spiritual rights?

A: Many thousands of years ago, prior to any European colonies immigrating to Canada, our ancestors were woven into the biodiversity of this land as they stood as our first Armed Forces. Our military contribution as Allied Forces of the war of 1812 shaped the borders of today’s Canada. Since then, Indigenous soldiers fought proudly within the Canadian Armed Forces and became the heroes of our past. Our cultural ways and spirituality was and will always be part our National Defence.

It is such a deep and wide honor to be exposed to our Indigenous culture and spirituality. Our rich cultural heritage is filled with so many branches of wisdom. Whether it is taking part into Métis festivities, sharing Inuit smiles and laughter or participating in First Nations ceremonies, our Indigenous culture and protocols have the power to make everyone feel as if they were home with family.

However, our relationship with the land and the warmth of our Family Circles can make it difficult when we are away from our Sacred Territories, relations and relatives. As a soldier, it is most important to be entitled to these home-like feelings such as culinary, traditional and/or spiritual. These are also great opportunities to share with non-Indigenous colleagues, and sometimes even to bring back our Indigenous neighbors who may have lost their ancestral ways.

When Indigenous Soldiers join the military and temporarily go away from their Families and Communities, they and their accompanying spouses and children must be capable to peruse and maintain their traditional Indigenous knowledge.

By the time they retire and move back on their traditional territory (20-25 years later), their Elders and Knowledge Keepers may have passed away. Supporting Indigenous soldiers and their dependants to seek and trade sacred knowledge and overall cultural awareness while in the military empowers them to keep their ancestral ways alive for their descendants to carry on their cultural duties. It will also assist these Indigenous military family to transit back as an integral part of their Communities at retirement.

Q3: How are Indigenous policies encompassed in the military?

A: Within a military organizational structure and methodology, without a written policy protecting and serving the support of our Indigenous military members, we leave too much room for misunderstanding. These misunderstandings directly impact our military members with limited voices at the bottom of the chain of command.

In the mid-1990s, the Defense Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) was created. The DAAG membership is composed of civilian and military Indigenous members of DND/CAF across Canada. The DAAG advises the Defence Champion for Indigenous Peoples on significant issues and trends affecting the role and quality of life of Indigenous People serving in DND/CAF. The Commander of the Canadian Army is the current Champion for Indigenous Peoples in DND/CAF.

Within consultation with the National DAAG network and our Elders and Knowledge Keepers from across Canada, Indigenous policies must support oral tradition and spirituality while clarifying needs and methods to fulfill them.

These DND/CAF internal policies must also interpret our Indigenous perspective based on the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canadian Constitution, The Indian Act, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Royal Proclamation of King George III of 1763, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Provincials Human Rights Codes, and the Truth & Reconciliations Commission of Canada: Call to Actions.

Q4: What do you hope for in the future with regard to Indigenous issues in the military?

A: By removing obstacles faced daily by our Indigenous Peoples on this land, we promote the right to wear proudly our Indigenous sense of identity, spiritually and physically.

As a father of four amazing children, I am simply trying to participate in helping our Indigenous causes so that if they chose to join the military when they grow up, it may be easier for them to make it better for their children.

As military members, the versatility of our leadership styles and our capability to adapt to foreign terrains and cultures are essential to our potential to succeed as an organization. Over the years, we have invested great emphasis in learning foreign dialects, cultures and demographics. Meanwhile, we still face great challenges back home in Canada regarding the overall awareness of our own Indigenous Peoples. But, I believe the interest is in motion and I have great hope invested within the years to come. The dialogue is open and we seem to be heartfully moving forward as one.

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Related Links

Meet the Indigenous Advisor to the Chaplain General
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
The Royal Canadian Chaplain Service
Canadian Forces Chaplaincy seeks increased diversity
Becoming a Canadian military Chaplain
Video: The Eagle Staff finds new carrier enroute to Nijmegen march

Image gallery

  • Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel carries the Eagle Staff.
  • Veterans, members of Veterans Affairs Canada and members of Buffalo Red Thunder at the Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony.
  • Tahnee Parisian dances a ceremonial dance at the Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony.
  • Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel holds the Eagle Staff on Remembrance Day.

Article / October 19, 2017 / Project number: 17-0280

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