This Remembrance Day, three First Nations youth serving in the military are reflecting on their experiences and why it’s important to honour Indigenous veterans.
Alura Castle is a member of Skownan First Nation in Manitoba. She was born in Winnipeg but raised in Vancouver and enrolled in a military program right out of high school that would subsidize her university education.
She signed up for the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year (ALOY) at the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada in Kingston, Ont. ALOY is a one-year program designed to expose Indigenous students to the military and to train them in key leadership skills.
“I thought that that was kind of a good segue because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in the military,” she said.
“I tried that out and I ended up falling in love with the job.”
She completed her undergraduate degree at RMC and worked with the Armed Forces as a health-care administration officer in Edmonton for a few years.
Castle is currently training in Thunder Bay to become a military doctor.
Castle said, in her experience, the military is supportive of Indigenous people.
“They do offer sweat lodges and any cultural experiences that you might want to practise,” she said.
For Remembrance Day, Castle said she’ll attending a ceremony for Indigenous veterans.
Atewenni:io Deer grew up in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Que., just outside Montreal. Now he is a staff sergeant in the United States Marine Corps (USMC).
He said that for Remembrance Day, he will be remembering the men and women in Kahnawake who served before him and fought for what they believed in.
“It’s incredibly important to acknowledge all Indigenous people serving; all of us had our own reasons for serving,” he said.
“We are the representatives of our nations, and when most of the population we serve with have never met an Indigenous person, we’re able to teach them about our individual cultures.”
Deer just reached his eight-year mark in the USMC and is currently stationed at Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I joined for the self discipline and the challenge of becoming a marine in the hardest training military branch,” said Deer.
“I wanted to be pushed past the limits that I felt I was restricting myself from.”
Deer has a cousin who joined the USMC and another cousin who earned the rank of sergeant major in the U.S. army, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer.
“I joined knowing I had to live up to the expectations they set for our family’s service members,” he said.
“The Indigenous people that served in the past set the example for me, and it’s my responsibility to uphold and to exceed those standards as best as I can.”
Desmond Simon grew up in Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. After encouragement from a high school counsellor he enrolled in the ALOY program and has been working with the Canadian Armed Forces ever since.
“The hardest thing for me in the first year was moving away, but at least I was around other Aboriginal people,” said Simon.
During that year, Simon said there was an elder with the program that brought his group to powwows around Ontario, which he said he really enjoyed.
“After that year, I was just by myself and I was lucky enough to be posted back in New Brunswick and close enough to home that I could travel back and forth.”
Simon said he is looking to leave the military after seven years of service to pursue documentary film making but said he’ll remember forever the experiences he had while serving.
He said the military can be intimidating at first but encourages Indigenous youth to persevere.
“Have a good time and just stay true to yourself,” he said.
“Be proud of who you are.”
Simon said he will be visiting his reserve on Remembrance Day, where they have a ceremony to mark the day.
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