New Hon Capt (N) says Anishinaabe teachings and RCN background helped her become a leader
By Joanie Veitch,
“Picture it: beautiful Batchewana First Nation in northern Ontario. A shy young Anishinaabekwe had a dream… ”
Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (Ret’d) Deborah Eisan’s dream of becoming a nurse and travelling the world didn’t work out quite as she had envisioned growing up. Instead, in her 36-year career with the Royal Canadian Navy, she travelled to more than 20 countries, developed new skills, and played a key role in recruiting and mentoring Indigenous youth through the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program and various summer training options, such as the Raven and Black Bear programs.
“I did not become a nurse, but I joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 17 and never looked back. It was the military that gave me the courage to stand up for who I am and to be proud of my culture and my heritage,” she said. “The military gave me the confidence to express my thoughts and opinions.”
At a scroll and pin presentation ceremony held on June 21 as part of her appointment as an Honorary Captain (Navy), now Hon Capt(N) Eisan said she is proud to be an ambassador for the RCN and feels “honoured and humbled” to be affiliated with the future HMCS Margaret Brooke, a ship named for a female veteran and commanded by a woman — Cdr Nicole Robichaud.
The event was held in the Admiral’s Conference Room at Maritime Forces Atlantic Headquarters with limited in-person attendance and many more watching online via.
Raymond Sewell, a musician from the Mi’kmaq community of Pabineau, NB, drummed and sang the Mi’kmaw Honour Song, and Chief Dean Sayers, Chief of Batchewana First Nations, gave congratulatory remarks before Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic, presented Hon Capt(N) Eisan with her Honorary Captain Scroll and Pin.
“Honorary Captains in the Royal Canadian Navy are selected leaders who have distinguished themselves in their private or public life. They act as ambassadors for the Navy to the Canadian people,” RAdm Santarpia said.
He listed her many achievements — including the National Aboriginal Women in Leadership Award of Distinction, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for her work in advocating for cultural awareness of Aboriginal people within the CAF, and her work in the creation of the DND/CAF Eagle Staff, the travelling symbol of unity among Indigenous people in the military. RAdm Santarpia said Hon Capt(N) Eisan has also played a key role as a “valued advisor” to senior military leadership on Indigenous matters.
“She was and continues to be, a strong voice for Indigenous members of the Canadian Forces, and veterans… Debbie, I have to say that we are the ones who are humbled and honoured that you have been appointed as honorary captain… you are truly remarkable.”
While her military training helped shape her career, in her keynote address following the presentation, Hon Capt(N) Eisan also spoke about the intrinsic value of Anishinaabe knowledge that has been passed down through the generations through the Seven Grandfather teachings of wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.
“Without the wisdom of our elders and our ancestors we would not know how to love ourselves unconditionally and to love others with the same tenacity; to respect each other and the differences we all have and that each of our spirits are unique and beautiful,” she said, highlighting the teachings of each of the guiding principles.
As one of the two military members instrumental in creating the DND/CAF Eagle Staff — carried at the scroll and pin ceremony by Petty Officer 1st Class Katerina Stewart — HCapt(N) Eisan recalled how she and Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Innes, from Whitefish River First Nation, were working together in 2002 when they each had a dream of an Eagle Staff. Sharing their vision with each other the next morning, the two went on to create the DND/CAF Eagle Staff as a powerful emblem of unity, honouring current and past Indigenous members in the Defence community.
“This Eagle Staff serves as a reminder of the tenacity and the strong and proud service of Indigenous people within the CAF,” said HCapt(N) Eisan. “So, you see, dreams do come true, but not always in the way you expect…if we open our eyes and watch for the signals, we’ll achieve our dreams.”