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National Aboriginal Day

RAdm John Newton displays the blanket presented to him by the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Council alongside Bert Milberg and Denise Onebreath Mitchell, the lead dancers at the Mawita’jik event.
Photo: Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

MARLANT takes part in National Aboriginal Day celebrations

Par Ryan Melanson,
L’équipe du Trident

A large crowd of MARLANT personnel gathered at the Halifax Common alongside members of Aboriginal communities from across the province on June 21 for the Mawita’jik – “Let us Gather” event marking National Aboriginal Day in Canada.

The MARLANT Defense Aboriginal Advisory Group partnered with the M’ikmaw Native Friendship Centre (MNFC) for the Mawita’jik event, and hundreds of uniformed personnel attended and took part in the activities of the day. This included workshops, a market, cultural performances and competitions, and dancing, including a veteran’s dance in front of the main stage, with all serving and retired CAF members invited to join in.

During the event’s opening ceremonies, the MNFC also made a presentation to RAdm John Newton, Commander MARLANT and JTFA, who was described as a great friend and supporter of the local Aboriginal community and of pushing for better Indigenous representation within the CAF. CPO2(ret’d) Debbie Eisan, a 36-year RCN veteran of Ojibway descent, who also serves as a community events planner with the MNFC, said 10 years as an aboriginal advisor to the CAF made her aware of how much progress has been made and how much work is still to come, and she commended RAdm Newton and MARLANT for progressive action on Indigenous issues within the organization.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very wonderful leaders, and RAdm Newton is someone who gets it, he understands the importance of knowing our culture and he understands the importance of moving ahead with reconciliation,” she said.

With RAdm Newton soon stepping away from his position with MARLANT, she said the Aboriginal community wanted to leave him with a parting gift, and Elder Tom Christmas, along with Chief Wilbert Marshall, assisted in a blanket ceremony honouring RAdm Newton. He was wrapped in a blanket decorated with four tipis, representing the different directions and interconnected elements of life.

“We want him to know he will always be in our hearts and our minds as we move ahead,” Eisan said.

Through his years as a naval officer and leader, RAdm Newton said he’s learned more about Mi’kmaq and Indigenous people as part of the larger story of Canada, including the many problematic elements of that story, and he said he strives to represent those communities while in uniform. He gave credit for his learning on these issues to local Mi’kmaq and Aboriginal leaders, as well as fellow CAF members like CPO2 (ret’d) Eisan and all who have been members of the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group.

“They all have day jobs, but they put in a considerable amount of time and effort into these activities, and into teaching us, the serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, about a more inclusive future, a more generous spirit, and a far greater empathy for where we’ve been and where we now must go,” RAdm Newton said.

Pamela Glode-Desrocher, as the MNFC’s executive director, gave similar comments when describing the goals of the large gathering on the common.

“It is about reconciliation, about bringing people together and doing things together. We’re reducing barriers and having serious conversations in a light-hearted manner, we’re celebrating our local talent and we’re helping people understand our communities,” she said.

The excitement for the local Mi’kmaw community continued later that day, when HRM council announced they would be exploring a sale of the former Canadian Red Cross building on Gottingen street as a possible new headquarters for the MNFC. National Aboriginal Day in Halifax also included performances on the Waterfront for APTN’s Aboriginal Day Live broadcast.