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Three Cree participate in Canadian Army’s new Indigenous training program

BY Patrick Quinn Aug 14, 2019

“It’s sure going to give you a different perspective on a lot of things… I feel sharper and stronger.”

Michael Petawabano

Carcajou is a new summer training program for Indigenous people run by the Canadian Army – and which now includes three young Cree recruits from Mistissini and Waskaganish. The paid program combines basic military training with Indigenous cultural practices over a six-week period at the Valcartier base, about 25 km from Quebec City. 

“It’s been challenging like I expected but I love it,” Bradley Aaron Lucas Mianscum told the Nation. “My father has served the community and my sister has worked in youth protection, so I wanted my own way to help people. Back in October, I found out one of my great-grandfathers was a Second World War veteran, so I decided this is a challenge I want to give myself.”

While Indigenous people have played key roles in all of Canada’s wars, many faced discrimination and loss of rights upon returning home. Programs like Carcajou are intended to make the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) more welcoming and representative. It begins with a culture camp week, led by First Nations Elders, which focuses on diverse Indigenous spiritual beliefs and eases the transition from civilian to military life.

“The Carcajou Program gives them an exposure of what the military has to offer and how they can be part of it,” said Major Rebecca Savard. “From there, people are able to choose different jobs they would like to do in the reserve, or not. For the candidates, it’s up to them if they want to continue in the reserve.”

Since launching the Bold Eagle program in 1990, the CAF has added four other Indigenous summer programs, which for some recruits who lack much connection to their roots is an introduction to their own culture. Carcajou was first intended to be offered only in French but it became somewhat bilingual after attracting anglophone applicants.

“I speak like zero French,” said Clint Diamond of Waskaganish, who, at 18, is the youngest of the three Cree in the program, though there are others as young as 16. “I took three planes to get here – that was a big step for me travelling from home. I was a bit scared.”

“This program is tough, hands down,” said Michael Petawabano. “Most frustrating is in the mornings –the captain says timing is everything and even if we’re one second late we still have to pay for it. We get up around 5 in the morning. I’ve noticed as of late I naturally wake up at 4 am without an alarm, ready to go.”

Days begin early with physical training – either a 5-km march carrying weights, circuit training of high-intensity aerobics, or a quick-paced running circuit. They do 15 push-ups every time they enter or exit a room, which Petawabano estimates add up to 200-300 per day. There are tent and gun inspections, ensuring everything is clean and orderly, followed by classroom lessons.

“There’s a lot of academics, which I love,” said Mianscum. “It’s a balance of both worlds. All our orders are given in French, but in classes they give us PowerPoints in English on paper.”

Mianscum has been impressed by the abundant employment opportunities available in the military. He intends to continue in the Primary Reserve with the Canadian Grenadier Guards as a part-time job while studying at Montreal’s Dawson College. When he returns next year for the infantry course, he’s interested in the parachuting course and may later pursue a bachelor’s degree to enable him to join the officer ranks.

While Petawabano is interested in the infantry and Diamond has considered eventually joining the Canadian Rangers, neither have yet decided if they will continue in the CAF. Regardless, they will earn about $4,200 for completing the program, not to mention priceless self-confidence, teamwork and time-management skills.

“It’s sure going to give you a different perspective on a lot of things,” said Petawabano. “I feel sharper and stronger. You’ll find yourself more disciplined and in good shape. Last week, I became course senior, like leader of the platoon.”

Petawabano was also excited about the upcoming gas-chamber exam, which involves wearing special suits that can withstand tear gas. Mianscum particularly enjoyed the obstacle course and using the shooting range. A hunter since he was a young boy, he hopes to win the award for best marksmanship.

“They are highly motivated and really charismatic individuals who have positive vibes on the other classmates,” Savard said about the Cree recruits. “Even if they don’t decide to stay in the military, they can learn from all the values and teachings here and inspire others. When you build self-confidence, you can conquer anything.”

Savard is proud of the group’s achievements, overcoming different backgrounds to work together, and loves the chant they sing as they march through the camp. Each recruit has gained transferable skills, such as weapons handling, navigation with map and compass, first aid and survival training.

All three Cree strongly recommended the program for the many great people they met and the personal growth it provided. Diamond is particularly thankful to a mentor in his community who helped him complete the admission forms and looks forward to making him proud when they next meet.

“If you want to challenge yourself, push your limits, this is the place to go,” said Mianscum. “It’s made me stronger, a better person. It’s challenged me being a leader. We have almost 19-hour workdays and five hours of sleep – this program has shown me so much I can do in one day.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.