Aboriginal Entry Program graduates ready to take the next step
By Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff
After a challenging three-week introduction to life in the CAF, the latest participants in the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program (CFAEP) were on parade at the new Windsor Park Armoury for a graduation ceremony on May 17.
The program includes daily PT, marching and parade training, and an introduction to different CAF trades and environments, including things like small arms and damage control training. Regardless of where life takes them following this experience, each of the recruits should feel proud of their accomplishment, said Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2) Joe Dickie, this year’s Course Operations CPO for the program.
“They’re amazing individuals, and as instructors, we’ve learned just as much from them through this experience as they’ve learned from us,” he said, referring to the cultural and spiritual education gained by CFAEP staff, who take part in all cultural elements of the program along with the participants and Indigenous counselors.
“We do everything together on a level playing field, which also teaches teamwork. The program can be overwhelming, but it has allowed these individuals to come out of their shell and gain confidence in an amazing way.”
The group was made up of 16 recruits from across the country, with hometowns spread across eight different provinces and the Yukon. With the program now complete, all 16 are planning to continue on and enroll in the CAF; some need to complete high school or other commitments first, while others have already been accepted and will begin basic training in the near future.
The graduation was attended by The Honourable Arthur J. LeBlanc, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, with Captain (Navy) David Benoit, Commanding Officer of FMF Cape Scott, as the reviewing officer, and Honourary Colonel Donald Julien as the co-reviewing officer. Other guests included CPO2 (ret’d) Debbie Eisan, an Ojibway veteran with a 36-year military career, and Sgt Tony Parsons, co-chair of the MARLANT Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group. The ceremony included the parade, award presentations, and a cultural presentation from drumming group Iron Tide and traditional dancers.
The ceremony caps off the program each year as a way to show off what the participants have learned and formally end the experience before each individual moves to the next step.
Graduate Matthew MacDonald, from Edmonton, Alberta, is one of those who’ll be heading off to his Basic Military Qualification course at the earliest opportunity. He was also the recipient of the Seven Teachings Award, presented each year by CPO2 (ret’d) Eisan to award a candidate for emulating the traditional teachings of wisdom, respect, love, honesty, bravery, humility and truth.
“I was scared at first. I didn’t really know about the military structure, but now it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve never done anything like this in my entire life,” he said.
He’s now eyeing a career with the Army, specifically the Combat Engineer trade, and said he would gladly recommend the program to his peers back home.
A goal of the CFAEP is to show Formation Halifax and the CAF in general as an inclusive and respectful workplace, and to communicate to recruits that a military career doesn’t mean leaving their culture or identity behind.
“Everyone here comes from different backgrounds and believes in different things, and I loved that,” MacDonald said.
“I come from a traditional family, I grew up with Cree teachings, and I hold strong beliefs in our traditional heritage. I wasn’t expecting to have sweats or to smudge almost every day while I was here, or to have sharing circles; it was fantastic.”
As the reviewing officer for the graduation parade, Capt(N) Benoit also addressed the CFAEP recruits. Along with complementing the group on the quality of their drill and thanking the instructors, mentors and other staff who supported the program, he congratulated the graduates for completing the program and absorbing the lessons that come with it.
“These relations you’ve built will help and sustain you no matter where you go. The ideas and lessons based around teamwork and leadership will be prevalent throughout your careers, no matter what your futures hold,” he said.
“You’ve embarked on a great journey, and know that every step of the way we’ll all be with you and cheering you on.”
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