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Canadian Forces reach out
Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre Vancouver reached out to urban Aboriginal communities in the Lower Mainland to strengthen relationships and recruit urban Aboriginal youth during a one-day open house.
The event, which celebrated Aboriginal culture and promoted employment opportunities for youth in the Armed Forces, was held at HMCS DISCOVERY naval base in Stanley Park on May 27.
Lieutenant Johanna L. Wickie, diversity officer with the recruiting centre, said the initiative was to engage local Aboriginal communities, and urban youth as much of the recruiting and partnerships with the Canadian Armed Forces is conducted in rural areas of British Columbia.
"We wanted to have an event that would honor, acknowledge, and underscore the important relations that we do have with Aboriginal community groups and reinforce that and bring it into a contemporary setting. What we're hoping to do is take this event and build a better stronger future relationship," said Wickie.
She said the goal of the cenre is to be more closely aligned with Aboriginal peoples and organizations. In 2002 Aboriginal recruits numbered less than five per cent and numbers continue to decrease, according to the 2006 Report of the Auditor General.
Master Corporal Brian Innes, Aboriginal outreach co-ordinator for British Columbia, echoed Wickie's comments, stressing the importance of ensuring communities have access to information, such as that of the Raven, Bold Eagle, and Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry programs.
Innes, a member of Cowessess First Nation, Sask., travels to communities throughout British Columbia as a recruiter for the Canadian Armed Forces. He said the response from communities is generally positive. A consistent concern with many communities is the fear that the youth will lose their Aboriginal identity, said Innes.
"I tell them that I keep my identity, First Nations. I am wearing a braid, which helps me complete myself. I show that to communities to show them that these programs were designed to be proud of who we are and still be able to be a part of the military family," said Innes.
In 1998, the Canadian Forces accepted a policy that allows Aboriginals to wear long hair and braids if requested by the individual and if there are no operational or safety concerns.
On hand at the event were co-ordinators from the Raven and Bold Eagle programs, both of which are youth employment programs that offer participants an opportunity to experience military life without commitment to join the regular forces.
Bold Eagle, an army initiative now in its 17th year of operation, is a six-week training program conducted at CFB Wainwright, Alta., during July and August. The course follows basic military training with inclusion of a four-day cultural camp led by First Nations Elders. Its naval counterpart, the Raven program, modeled after Bold Eagle, began four years ago with a goal to strengthen relationships between CFB Esquimalt and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. The training is conducted at the CFB Esquimalt in Victoria over a seven-week period. The programs target youth aged 16 to 29 with approximately 50 students per program.
"It helps them build in four specific areas, to help increase their knowledge and ability in self-confidence, self-discipline, team work and physical fitness. That's our goal for the course, to help them improve in those four areas in their life. It's a military run course but we also try and teach them life skills," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Allan MacRae, the Raven program co-ordinator.
According to MacRae, in the last two years six of the 44 graduates have continued with the military. He added that an additional four graduates from last year's program are currently applying for the regular force. "If we get 10 kids that join, that's 25 per cent. That's good," said MacRae. The Bold Eagle program claims similar numbers of youth that enter into the military.
Derwyn Alexander, 18, ordinary seaman, is a graduate of last year's Raven program who upon completion enlisted with the navy. "I had heard about it earlier in my school year and so I decided to try and join up. It sounded like fun. I always wanted to join the military, so this was my chance," said Alexander.
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