Hard work pays off for Aboriginal Entry Program graduates
By Ryan Melanson,
Even with years of experience in Air Cadets to help prepare her, 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.”
Her CFAEP 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 with daily PT, marching and parade training, and exposure to different CAF trades and environments.
“It was an awesome experience and 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. Having completed the program, 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 of 15 graduates has indicated a desire to join the CAF in the Regular or Reserve Force, and many have already been accepted and begun the official process. It’s a typical result for the program, which is geared toward increasing Aboriginal enrollment in the CAF and presenting the organization as an inclusive environment to start a career with. Individuals between 18-30 years old and of First Nation, Metis or Inuit descent, with an interest in the CAF, are invited to bases to participate in the immersive experience. While it involves activities like weapons and navigation training, day sails on a warship, and an Army experience in Gagetown, 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, who served as an instructor with the CFAEP in 2017 and again for this year.
PO2 Swiminer described this year’s group of graduates as outstanding recruits, and said it was easy to feel proud after seeing the candidates respond to the initial shock of military life and eventually thrive as a team.
“There are unique challenges that come with life in the Canadian Armed Forces, and they’ve overcome those challenges with a lot of hard work. They should feel very proud on parade today.”
For Evan Charters of Edmonton, the graduation was a proud moment, but also one that he hopes others can look to for inspiration. He plans to join the Army, and after breezing through the rappel tower exercise and weapons training, hopes 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. In doing this, 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 at Scotian was reviewed by BGen Virginia Tattersall, Deputy Commander, Military Personnel Generation, along with HCol 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.