It’s time to create a First Nations regiment

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My phone rang the other day, and on the end of the line was the familiar voice of a prominent Manitoba business leader. His request was simple. "I'm looking for Bold Eagles," he said, "and I'll hire every one of them."

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/02/2015 (2902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

My phone rang the other day, and on the end of the line was the familiar voice of a prominent Manitoba business leader. His request was simple. “I’m looking for Bold Eagles,” he said, “and I’ll hire every one of them.”

Some would be shocked he was looking to recruit young aboriginal men and women who, so often, are unfairly maligned, but I was not one of them. As a former member of the military myself, I was well-aware of the Bold Eagle program, run by the Canadian Armed Forces, to help empower one of the fastest-growing segments of our population.

Bold Eagle is a six-week youth-development program run out of Wainwright, Alta., a bleak, rolling area that, over time, becomes seared into the minds of recruits who have trained there, as both a punishing landscape but also a land of opportunity where their lives were forever changed.

Its goal is to help recruits understand the need for self-discipline and teamwork while providing basic military training. But the rarity of Bold Eagle is its ability to connect young people of aboriginal descent with their cultural history to ensure they learn about the tradition of military service, long exemplified by generations before them.

Program co-ordinator Lyndon Linklater said each year he witnesses miracles take place before his very eyes. “One year, I remember two teenage girls begging to go home after Week Two,” he said. “To their credit, their families told them to hang in, and they did.”

As proud Bold Eagle graduates, Linklater said the 16-year-old served the Canadian Forces for four years and is now a city police officer, while the 17-year-old is still in the CF and is a paramedic. “I can’t tell you enough how much this program transforms lives,” he said.

Serving others is a paramount component of First Nations traditions, which is the main reason vast numbers volunteered to serve during both world wars. It’s also why the CF is able to successfully recruit and retain our newest generation of young ‘warriors.’

Looking back, First Nations cultures had their own warrior societies where youth were selected and trained under the watchful eye of those with experience. They were taught discipline and shown the ways of the warriors and, just like the Bold Eagle graduates, were held in high regard having earned the respect of others.

While the entry requirements to today’s Bold Eagle program are straightforward, this summertime training is not for the faint of heart, as it is both comprehensive and extremely demanding.

When you serve in the military, you suffer — especially in the infantry. For starters, infantry recruits get up way before the rest of the world, work out, do endless forced ruck marches, crawl, slog and run, usually in cold and wet conditions.

But the payoffs are huge, resulting in a dedication that instils a fierce sense of pride, not only in the recruit but in the uniform, that is obvious for all to see.

This is something many young people yearn for, especially young aboriginal people — to be placed in a situation of exceptionally high expectations, to be challenged and to be stressed; a situation where they are not pampered or coddled but given the opportunity to succeed, under the harshest of conditions.

This is another reason the military has so much in common with the traditional ways of First Nations people — intentional suffering for others through fasting and sun-dancing, to mention just two examples.

To help recruits learn about themselves and their history, they spend one week with Cree elders. Then, in a remarkable ceremony, they are handed over to Canadian Forces staff who take them through their basic military training.

The end game is to promote self-confidence, self-discipline, teamwork and physical fitness. And the Bold Eagle program does just that, and more.

For most, a summer in Wainwright is a game-changer that opens young peoples’ eyes not only to what opportunities are out there within the military and beyond, but also to the strengths they discover within themselves.

Now, it should come as no surprise smart business people have woken up to the advantages of hiring Bold Eagles with their enduring and traditional signs of strength, leadership, wisdom and courage.

To honour these young people and the generations of soldiers before them, perhaps it is time Canada created a First Nations regiment, similar to the Irish regiment or one of our 16 Scottish regiments. As a nation, we should be equally indebted to all.

 

James Wilson is commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding and enhance mutual respect between all people in Manitoba.

 

Twitter: @jamesbwilson_

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