Mr. Chairman, vice-chairs and honourable members of the committee, thank you for the invitation.
I am honoured to appear before you to make this presentation to aid you in your study on diversity in the armed forces and the experiences of indigenous peoples in the military.
The Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association, the CAV, is a nationally and internationally recognized veterans organization. We are in our 40th year of representing our indigenous members—first nations veterans, Métis veterans, Inuit veterans, RCMP veterans and Canadian Rangers. The CAV is a full-spectrum veterans organization with members from all eras—World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War to the present day.
The CAV national website has a very large group of dedicated followers, and has surpassed 750,000 visits. The CAV maintains 20 groups on social media that span the country. The CAV is dedicated to promoting a career in the Canadian Armed Forces.
My name is retired Lieutenant-Colonel David Quick, CD, professional engineer, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. During my 38-year career, I've held positions in both command and engineering in the primary reserve and the regular force, which include the 1st Canadian Division headquarters, the standby high readiness brigade for UN operations, and the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command. I was a commanding officer of 724 Communication Squadron, Canadian Forces Station Debert and Canadian Forces Station Alert.
The indigenous heritage of my mother's family in the United States was not spoken of and not discovered until 2005, thus my personal experiences as an indigenous person are limited. But upon discovery of my indigenous heritage, I became a member of the Echota Cherokee Tribe in the United States.
From my experiences, in 2000, when I took command of Canadian Forces Station Alert, I met a young soldier with shoulder-length hair. I asked him about his hair and he proudly stated that he was aboriginal and was embracing his culture. At that moment I realized the station command structure respected his decision and supported him. During my tour in Alert, I never encountered any derogatory comments or ill will against any indigenous person.
Once I became a member of the Cherokee tribe, I was always permitted to participate in the NDHQ Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group. This included monthly meetings, work time for group business, and spiritual and cultural activities. I felt my chain of command supported my participation.
Retired Warrant Officer Iris Felix, a Mi'kmaq signals veteran, was offered the opportunity to become a recruiter for the day. This program provided sufficient training to assist trained recruiters discuss opportunities in the Canadian Armed Forces with potential indigenous recruits. Iris travelled to Newfoundland and spoke with many indigenous youths about the opportunities and benefits of serving. She found this program exhilarating and rewarding. She only wished that she knew if anyone enrolled.
Another member, Richard Blackwolf, a Métis veteran of the Cold War era, served in the Royal Canadian Navy aboard destroyers HMCS Skeena, HMCS Saskatchewan and HMCS Yukon.
He recalls that HMCS Cornwallis, the recruit training base, had a great interest in indigenous recruits. He was interviewed several times to consider becoming a radio special operator in the clandestine navy radio special branch. During the Cold War, the interest in having indigenous sailors as radio special operators was the fact that they had no family, friends, or other persons in Europe and in the Soviet Union who could be used to coerce them into divulging classified information.
Richard's experience in the navy was positive, with opportunities for advancement in the field of anti-submarine sonar systems and digital electronics. Diligence and high marks in fleet school electronic courses and in factory equipment training courses garnered respect. One's race or background was never an issue with the ship's companies with which he served and the training classes that he attended.
Richard Blackwolf noticed a marked change in the navy starting in 1966 when it became politicized, with the imposition of amalgamation resulting in the loss of the Admiralty, with the imposition of integration resulting in the loss of the Royal Canadian Navy and, in 1969, with the imposition of a bilingual quota of 28% French speakers imposed on all ranks in the Canadian Forces. In his opinion, a quota based on a language was detrimental to advancement in rank and training opportunities and created divisions in the navy that had not existed before. Despite the politically instigated turmoil in the Canadian Forces that occurred in the late sixties, which caused him to end his career in the military, there is a realization today that times have changed, and he is an ardent advocate of a career in the Canadian Armed Forces for indigenous youths.
Moving back to my experiences, the only negative experience that I've had was from my time was with the National Defence headquarters defence aboriginal advisory group. Members of the group had difficulties obtaining permission to attend the monthly meeting, which is a sanctioned meeting, along with group events. I noticed that non-commissioned members from locations some distance from the Major-General George R. Pearkes Building were unable to attend meetings and group events.
When I engaged these members, the impression I was given was that the supervisors did not want to lose productivity for a two-hour meeting plus travel time. Even when the local aboriginal champion, the commandant of the Canadian Forces Support Unit, stated that he would engage the person's chain of command, these people declined, as they felt there would be retribution from their supervisor though their yearly performance assessment. In my opinion, the higher chain of command supported the participation of indigenous members in meetings and activities, but the practice at the supervisory level was imperfect.
I understand the difficulties that supervisors, both military and civilian, have with limited manning and maintaining shift schedules in order to complete their work. It appears that some supervisors consider time away from work for a perceived extracurricular meeting or event is not acceptable. I recommend that more emphasis be given to diversity policy, the implementation of this policy and the legal requirements of this policy in leadership training at all levels.
The Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association is an impassioned advocate of a career in the Canadian Armed Forces for indigenous youth. Advocating for a career in the Canadian Armed Forces takes the form of a youth-dedicated page on our national website that provides a comprehensive look at all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces and the variety of employment opportunities available, to stimulate enrolment and a career in the Canadian Armed Forces. It has been our collective experience over the past four decades that the overall experience of indigenous soldiers, sailors, aviators and rangers has been positive. A common refrain of our veterans is that they would serve again if they could.
I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, vice-chairmen and honourable members of the committee, for your interest and kind attention.
Good day. Âba wathtech
My name is Tasina Pope. My indigenous name is Îyâ To Wîyâ, which means Blue Mountain Woman.
I come from Treaty 7 territory, which holds the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy, Tsuut’ina Nation, Métis region 3 and all who call the land their home.
I was voluntarily released in 2018, which turned into a medical release. I felt confused, not having an indigenous woman mentor within the non-commissioned member rank. There was competition amongst all female ranks, and belittling behaviour. Very few meaningful relationships developed during my time in the Canadian Forces. There were few to no cultural practices of indigenous spirituality. I was denied the right to grow my own hair, which I had to do secure a permanent position within my first home unit, which was delayed by two years. I was also denied the opportunity to attend close family members' funerals. In an indigenous community, attending funerals honours the family clan.
My story is about enlistment, which unfortunately included attempted suicide. I voluntarily released to come back home, and during that time I got a medical release.
It was pointless even attempting to apply for other benefits that I might have been entitled to. I had to voluntarily release due to the passing of my brother. When I came back to the reserve, my only brother was murdered in the summer of 2016. My mother died of a broken heart in the fall of 2017.
Grieving these deaths has been challenging and difficult. I am trying to suggest changes to policies, given what I experienced as an indigenous woman while in the Canadian Armed Forces. Because of all that, I was not even able to go to post-secondary institutions. I was short three months on a six-year commitment.
Since utilizing the veterans transition program last year, I am starting to feel normal once again. Thank you, isniyés, to my family and to my husband for the support I have gathered by coming from the military to my community.
My recommendation would be to automatically promote all indigenous, Inuit and Métis people, including visible minorities, within the Canadian forces. I believe a three- to six-month time frame from May to August of this year can be achieved.
Other recommendations are to initiate a mentorship program. Re-issue letters of re-enlistment opportunities for past veterans. Current Canadian markets have limited employment opportunities—not just the reserve division, which I read in past reports that were sent out. Many indigenous women have vocalized on social media their concerns about having limited resources sent out to them.
Establish a yearly newsletter. Send out mass letters to veterans, reconnecting them through our military family resource centre.
Re-examine sexual harassment cases, and take into consideration the data showing that women are 90% of the victims. This is from “Operation HONOUR: Statistical Summary of Harmful and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour—Incidents and Offences for Fiscal Year 2017-2018”.
I was isolated, and my own situation resulted in me being subjected to extreme mistreatment by my own chain of command. I faced years of scrutiny. Even after being transferred to an east-coast posting from the west coast, I faced an extremely unhealthy environment, which ultimately resulted in me being released from duty.
I had to avoid certain individuals while posted on the east coast, which was quite difficult, being in a small navy unit. Everybody is usually in the same environment.
Out of this, I am very grateful to have served not just my nation, but also Canada in general.
With that, I conclude my speech. Thank you for listening.
I acknowledge the members of the Standing Committee on National Defence.
I'm honoured to be here as the regional third vice-chief of the FSIN, a collection of 72 first nations in the province of Saskatchewan. Within our group, we also have our Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association.
I want to acknowledge my colleagues here, Madame Pope and Mr. Quick, and acknowledge as well that we are in Algonquin territory.
I personally have a hard time talking about myself, but I can say this, though: I joined the forces in 1969, and to me, joining the forces and all its rigid protocols was not very difficult because I'd just come out of residential school where the protocols were somewhat the same in terms of the rigidness.
I enjoyed the experience. I was there for three years and then had to go out and get experience in life because of the residential school and then the military. I basically joined the military because my brother was in there at the time.
After leaving the military, I came back to Saskatchewan and then had to get a lesson in life. I proceeded to do that, and as it did for many residential school survivors, it involved a lot of vices—alcohol, and so on. That was a vice in the army as well, but it wasn't a bad vice.
I want to fast-forward to today. We in Saskatchewan have a vibrant organization that places our veterans at the highest level in our developments. We have 72 first nations, with chiefs and councils in each one, and we're all collective in our developments moving forward. We also have treaty areas such as Madame Pope's Treaty No. 7, and I guess the peace and friendship treaties that are part of this specific area. I'm part of Treaties Nos. 1 through 11, which are economic treaties.
The Canadian Forces, as we've witnessed as a collective, has historically been ever evolving, an ever-evolving experience as witnessed by first nations. Today we acknowledge the many options for first nations to join the armed forces, from the aboriginal leadership programs and the aboriginal entry programs to the various summer youth training programs, including Saskatchewan's Bold Eagle program.
We acknowledge historically as well that our first-nation citizens, by way of treaties, were not obligated to fight in Her Majesty's wars, but come the First World War and the Second World War, because of the past system that restricted our people from leaving the reserve without a pass, many of them joined up. However, when they joined up, they lost their status or their treaty right to be an Indian, so you became a non-status Indian. Coming home from the wars, after going to fight for freedom, they found themselves in the same atmosphere that they left, the same positions that they left.
Getting back to where we are today, I'd like to focus on us celebrating our past, and of course, celebrating our youth going forward, such as this young lady. There are many challenges, but at the same time, still the successes.
Today, we acknowledge that there are many different opportunities for our first nations to become members of the Canadian Armed Forces, with the Canadian Rangers, reserve force and regular force.
There are many good things in the form of administration to protect the religious rights of first-nation persons in the forces, such as the right to wear braids. Out west, where we come from, and we do a lot of partnership with CFB Wainwright, there's the right to have sweats. They're not restricted to the first nations, but to anyone who wants to come in. That's our way. That's our church.
We acknowledge the anti-racism policies that have put included in the Canadian Armed Forces' administrative orders, which have gone a long way towards retaining our first nations.
In the midst of all this positive change, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the sad case of Corporal Nolan Caribou of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, a Bold Eagle graduate of three years before. The help he was denied has left a hole in his family and his loss is a great one for his community. We would like to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for taking responsibility. We await the resolution and look forward to the continuing changes to prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening in the future both to our soldiers and all soldiers alike.
It would be a disservice to take away from someone's experiences, so I acknowledge them, positive and negative alike.
Standing committee members, it is my experience that there is more of an interest among our youth to be a part of the Canadian Forces than there are available spots in Saskatchewan. For every spot, there are 10 applicants to get into that spot. There are many challenges in coping with the changes that come from being away from their homes and starting within the Canadian Forces. There is difficulty in transitioning from a Bold Eagle to the reserve force service, questions they don't know how to ask, and career management. Diversity is a challenge. There is difficulty in knowing where they fit in. Many find the recruiting process itself to be confusing and challenging. However, the effect on our communities of our youth joining the Canadian Forces has been greatly positive, and service with Canadian Forces has been a source of pride to many first nations people. We celebrate them as role models and honour them as they have honoured us in their service.
The positive change presented by the Canadian Armed Forces has been noticed, and it is exciting to look forward to when our children, our warriors, come home, because they have always been warriors. When they go in, they're warriors for the Canadian government as well.
I want to talk briefly about Bold Eagle and its success as it goes into its 29th year. It started from an agreement between the North Saskatchewan Regiment and the Prince Albert Grand Council in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to provide a summer program for our youth, who would in turn use it as a springboard into the military or to continue their education, or go into the RCMP. The program instills that leadership pride in them. The success of that program has largely been due to the partnership between the Canadian Armed Forces and the first nations, and also the fact that we are able to infuse a huge cultural component starting for one week that helps them acclimatize into CFB Wainwright. A lot of current servicemen who are of aboriginal descent are part of that program as role models.
I think we went from 10 individuals initially to now, in the catchment area of Western Command, to some 180 applying. We have spots for 180 and will probably finish with 150 of our youth. The program is successful in ensuring that there is someone there to assist them when they are having problems with loneliness, or the individual problems that our children have when they're away from home.
We have two elders, a female and a male. We've been so successful that we're getting caught up in one specific culture and imposing on another culture that's maybe from a different area, but it's a good problem to have because the success of our youth in it continues. Our youth continue to want to be part of that program.
I also want to talk a little about ALOY out of Kingston. Bold Eagle requires grade 10; ALOY, grade 12. Within the military, there are two types of services, as you all know: non-commissioned officers and officers. While Bold Eagle can lead to someone becoming an officer, most of those who become Bold Eagle are non-commissioned members bound. ALOY is focused on officers entirely. ALOY focuses on education as much military training, and we acknowledge that one year of training that leads to officer training is equivalent to one year in the regular force.
We acknowledge all of those good programs that are out there. We look forward, and we're always looking for that better day. At the same time, at the end of the day, as chair of the Bold Eagle management committee, along with co-chair Lieutenant Colonel Lee Mossop out of Wainwright, we are cognizant of our success. We're always looking forward to sharing that. You see that with Black Bear out of Cagetown and Raven out of Esquimalt.
The partnerships with the Canadian Forces are vital to our people. We've always been there. We go back as far as 1812, when our people were part of that process. We want to encourage. Diversity is important to us.
Thank you again. I know I'm running out of time, so I want to say that I'm grateful to be here. I haven't been to one of these committees in about 20 years, and it's always a pleasure to come to talk to our leaders from across the country.
Thank you to the witnesses. I'm not normally a member of the committee—I'm an occasional replacement—but I found this very interesting. I thank each of you for your testimony today.
I want to focus on recruitment. A lot of my questions have already been addressed. I want to focus, though, on military service. And thank you again to each of you.
It's not for everyone. My father was a vet and my uncles were vets of the Second World War. They did not make a career of the military. There were six boys and they all made it back safely. My father was in the army and my uncles were in the navy. What I experienced, as a parliamentarian, was four or five days in the military. I chose the army first, in Wainwright, and then I went into the navy on the Winnipeg. I quickly found that I didn't like the navy and the repetitive nature of the navy, but I thought it would have been very interesting to have had a career in the army. But, again, I didn't know what I would have been getting into if I would have chosen that as a career. That was a common theme—that people didn't know what they were getting into.
Mr. Lerat, you mentioned loneliness. You recommended that there be indigenous people in recruitment, but Ms. Pope said that she experienced isolation, an extremely unhealthy environment, to the point where she left. She talked about loneliness and felt that she needed that mentor person as she went through that.
My question is this. Is it for everyone? How do we properly let people who are indigenous know better what they're committing to? You said you didn't know what you were getting into, yet you liked it. How do you screen people and let them know this is what the life in the military, in the Canadian Forces, is going to be like so that people know what they're getting into? Would it be helpful if in the recruitment they were actually being mentored at the front end? They would get into it and be supported in all of these practical ways, and people would know what they were getting into. Would that be helpful?
That's a really difficult question to answer, because different individuals will have different reactions to joining the forces. To me, it was easy. My brother was there, and what was good for him was good for me. However, now, in our current situation, we place so much more emphasis not only on priests but on our holy men and women, as well.
Our church is somewhat different. I was raised Roman Catholic in a residential school, but have since gone to what we call “the red road” in our society. It's the same. We're all linked in by the Creator, whether it's God or whatever you call Him. We all respect the different denominations.
Getting back to your question, though, about how you would explain to an individual, a youth, that this is the real life of the forces, it's difficult for me. In terms of retention I know that, as Madam Pope indicated, our sacred ceremonies and our protocols are helpful to us as first nations—and not only to us as first nations, just like a church, but it's open to everyone.
However, elders and elders' attachments to bases, to areas where our aboriginal people are employed, especially when they're going in.... When I went in, I went to Cornwallis. That's a long way from the reservation outside of Regina.
At the same time, though, there was the camaraderie that I established. I wasn't too exposed to non-first nations or to negroes, so it was all a learning experience for me as we went forward. At the same time, we were all one. We were units. We were a collective. If one was down, you'd kind of pull him up.
That camaraderie is similar to Bald Eagle. What happens in Bald Eagle is that it's a team approach, but it's a team approach that is supported by those whom those individuals trust. I'm not saying they don't trust others, but it's easier to talk to an elder, as they are part of your culture.