Hard work pays off for Aboriginal Entry Program graduates

Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program graduation ceremony on HMCS Scotian
A cultural presentation, including dancing and drumming, was part of the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program graduation ceremony on HMCS Scotian. Photo: Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

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By Ryan Melanson – Trident

Even with years of experience in Air Cadets, 20-year-old Kayla Syrie said the first few days with the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program (CFAEP) required a big adjustment.

“The first morning was a big wake up call. We were up at 5 a.m., we were doing PT in the rain; it was very fast paced. That adjustment was the hardest part,” said Syrie.

Her group wrapped up their three weeks in Halifax during a graduation ceremony at HMCS Scotian on May 25, after getting a taste of military life and exposure to different Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) trades and environments.

“We really came together as a team by the end, which was very rewarding,” added Syrie, who has Algonquin heritage and is from Wasaga Beach, Ontario. She’s already begun the process of joining the CAF, with hopes of either pursuing the Aircraft Structures Technician trade or attending the Military Police Academy.

Every member of this year’s group has indicated a desire to join the CAF, and many have already been accepted. It’s a typical result for the program, which is geared toward increasing Aboriginal enrollment in the CAF. Individuals between 18-30 years old, and of First Nation, Metis or Inuit descent, are invited to bases to participate in the immersive experience. While it involves activities like weapons and navigation training, the program also explores CAF culture, and how different identities can fit within it.

“We want to give them an opportunity to understand military culture, but also to understand that there are opportunities for Indigenous cultures and military culture to coexist – that there are outstanding career opportunities with the CAF based on leadership, teamwork and respect,” said PO2 Shawn Swiminer of Naval Fleet School Atlantic.

For Evan Charters of Edmonton, graduation was a proud moment, and one he hopes others can look to for inspiration. He plans to join the Army to become an Infantry Soldier. “My mother works with Aboriginal youth back at home, and a lot of them come from a hard way of life. I just want to show them that a person from our (Cree) community can break the stigmas and become something better,” he said.

The graduation parade was attended by Brigadier-General Virginia Tattersall, Deputy Commander, Military Personnel Generation, along with Honorary Colonel Donald Julien, a member of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council and Honorary Colonel for 5th Canadian Division. Other guests included His Honour Arthur J. Leblanc, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, and Her Honour Patsy Leblanc, CPO2 (ret’d) Debbie Eisan, a 36-year military veteran and member of the Aboriginal community, as well as members of the MARLANT Aboriginal Advisory Group. Following the official ceremonies, guests were treated to a performance by the Eastern Eagle drum group, along with ceremonial dancing led by CPO2 (ret’d) Eisan.

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