Participants of a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) program for young indigenous people were “taunted” with a “whooping war cry” by a sailor while visiting HMCS Fredericton during a trip.
Rear Admiral John Newton provided an apology in a speech on Friday during a graduation ceremony for the participants of the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program.
“He is a Canadian no more entitled nor superior than any one of you no matter the uniform he wears or the trade skill we have taught him,” read part of a transcript of his speech provided by the CAF. “The member has been counselled and I make no excuses for him.”
A video journalist for Global News requested an interview with Newton after the morning ceremony but was told he was not available.
The speech was made in the presence of the 13 participants, their family members, members of the CAF, Nova Scotia’s lieutenant governor, and others at HMCS Scotian.
“I can assure you that the war cry has been addressed for the insult that it was. The member shocked himself even and is sincerely apologetic. He shamed himself and his unit and immediately realized his insensitivity and crudeness. I know that he will now be a better foot soldier and ambassador for what the Canadian Armed Forces stands for,” read the transcript.
Aviator Brooke Robertson, a 2014 graduate of the program, was a mentor for the participants.
She told reporters after the event that she heard the war cry.
“I was pretty offended but kept my cool, and I think we dealt with it the way it should have been,” said Robertson, who is Oji-Cree.
“My advice is to always stand up for your culture and your beliefs and, at the same time, be respectful of others because not everybody is savvy in cultures.”
Purpose of the program
The three-week program, which is for people aged 18-30 years of age, is meant to introduce participants to military culture and show that they can maintain their own culture if they join.
They participated in a variety of activities akin to basic training.
“Not a lot of aboriginals from small communities get the chance to really see what the military is all about,” Robertson said.
The participants are from six provinces and one territory.
“It’s important right now that we have a diverse Canadian Armed Forces, and we need to look and feel like the general public,” said Petty Officer First Class Shawn Swinimer.
One participant’s experience
Chad Jackman, who is from Dartmouth, is looking forwarding to resting after what he described as a demanding few weeks.
“Man, what didn’t we do? We shot rifles, we rode on helicopters, we rode on light-armoured vehicles, we rappelled — that was something that I never thought I would do,” he said with a laugh.
Jackman said his favourite part was getting to ride on a Cormorant helicopter.
If he does continue on to have a career in the military, his goal would be to become a pilot.
Jackman, who is Ojibwe, said that diversity is good for the CAF.
“If you start seeing a lot more black people, aboriginal people, Chinese people — anything — it allows for a lot more education, and just thinking about what you say before you say it is a big one,” he said.
Of the 13 participants, 11 want to pursue a career with the CAF, according to Swinimer.