Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Armed Forces

Backgrounder / May 19, 2016 / Project number: BG - 13.016

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) celebrates the contributions that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made to Canada and its military. The CAF continues to develop relationships with communities and their leaders to increase awareness of the opportunities Canada’s military has to offer.

A Proud History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Armed Forces

Each time there has been a need, Aboriginal people have volunteered to serve in the CAF while overcoming cultural challenges, and in making sacrifices, have made impressive contributions to restoring world peace. They were valued allies during the War of 1812, and thousands of Aboriginal men and women served during the First World War and the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. Aboriginal CAF members have risked their lives defending the Canadian values of peace, freedom, and democracy in such recent missions as Canada’s engagements in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and other UN-led and humanitarian missions.    

Aboriginal Serving Members Today

First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada are employed in challenging and rewarding jobs throughout the CAF.

Based on self-identification figures from June 2015, there are approximately 2294 Aboriginal members currently serving in the CAF Regular Force and Primary Reserve Force combined, or a representation of 2.5 per cent. (Self-identification is voluntary, meaning that enrolment numbers may be higher than they appear.) The Canadian Army has the highest percentage of Aboriginal people at 2.7, the Royal Canadian Navy has a representation of 2.3 per cent, and the Royal Canadian Air Force is at 2.2 per cent. The CAF’s long-term Employment Equity goal for Aboriginal peoples is 3.4 per cent.

Aboriginal Leadership Training

Many Aboriginal people have undertaken the education and training opportunities that the CAF offers, such as leadership training and enrolling in academic courses in college and university programs. As a result, they have become exceptional leaders in every field of the CAF, from engineers and physiotherapists, to technicians and systems specialists.

A career in the CAF is more than just a job. It is an opportunity to make a difference in Canada and in the world. It is a chance to be part of a history of service and a community of people dedicated to preserving peace and security.

CAF Experience Programs for Aboriginal People

The CAF works with Aboriginal communities, their leaders, and veterans to raise awareness of what a military career has to offer. Through “CAF Experience” programs, Aboriginal people across Canada can work and train with the CAF for a specific period of time, and experience the lifestyle, without the commitment to joining the CAF.

Aboriginal Summer Programs

The CAF offers three six-week training and leadership programs that combine military training with Aboriginal cultural awareness: Bold Eagle (in Alberta), Raven (in British Columbia), and Black Bear (a bilingual program  in New Brunswick). All candidates are paid a salary and successful candidates receive a reserve basic military qualification. These summer programs provide the experience of military and leadership training with the option, but no commitment, to subsequently pursue employment with the CAF.

Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program

The Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program is a three-week program that gives Aboriginal candidates the opportunity to explore a career in the military, prepare for training expectations, and learn about military culture. They are then able to make a more informed decision before officially enrolling in the CAF. Program training courses are held at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year

The Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year is a one-year program with the Regular Force offered at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. This program is open to Aboriginal people who are high school graduates (or equivalent) and who meet the selection criteria for post-secondary education. As officer cadets, Aboriginal students experience a combination of university-level study and military and leadership training. Additionally, cadets participate in Aboriginal cultural development activities.

Aboriginal Spirituality

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has acknowledged the practice of Aboriginal Spirituality as important for Aboriginal members. Aboriginal Spirituality consists of various customs and traditions which are unique to each Aboriginal community across Canada. The CAF have revised policies to ensure Aboriginal members are able to practise their specific Aboriginal customs and traditions, such as the wearing of the Métis sash or the wearing of long braided hair. The CAF also offers Aboriginal members the opportunity to participate in various cultural ceremonies (such as the sweat lodge) on CAF bases and DND property.    

Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group

The mission of the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group is to advise Commanders on significant issues affecting the lives of Aboriginal people working at the Department of National Defence (DND) and serving in the CAF. The members of the Group support the chain of command in their mandate to foster awareness of Aboriginal issues and recruiting and retention issues, and also provide a forum for Aboriginal peoples to gather and support one another as they exercise their unique cultural, spiritual and traditional identities within DND and the CAF. All DND employees and CAF members, regardless of ethnic origin, are welcome to join the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group. The Group provides essential advice to DND and CAF leaders, identifying current systemic problems and anticipating the impact of new policies and initiatives on Aboriginal employees and members.

Aboriginal Awareness Week

Aboriginal Awareness Week was first introduced in 1992 in order to increase awareness of Aboriginal Peoples within the Canadian population. It has evolved into a week to honour the many Aboriginal cultures in Canada, including the Métis, the Inuit and First Nations. This Awareness Week was then adopted by DND and the CAF leadership as one of the four Employment Equity commemorative events to be held during the year. A different theme is celebrated each year.

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument 

In recognition of their historical sacrifices and contributions, a national monument to Aboriginal veterans was unveiled in Ottawa on June 21, 2001, on the occasion of National Aboriginal Day.  Adrienne Clarkson, then Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, stated at the unveiling, “It is about the history of Aboriginal veterans and the places where they served in Canada’s uniform with honour and distinction, at home and abroad, in time of war and in keeping the peace. It is about a much unknown, almost ignored, but glorious history. As Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, I want to express on behalf of all Canadians our pride in this history.”

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