Aboriginal Canadians have a storied history with Canada’s military that goes all the way back to the 18th century. Thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit men and women have served in the War of 1812, the Boer War, both World Wars, the Korean War and the Gulf War.
Many were even recognized for their military achievements: Francis Pegahmagabow, a World War I sniper from the Shawanaga First Nation near Parry Sound, Ont., was the First Nations soldier most highly decorated for bravery in Canadian military history, and Tommy Prince from the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation near Winnipeg was also one of Canada’s most decorated First Nations soldiers, serving in World War II and the Korean War.
Today, Aboriginal men and women have more opportunities than ever to pursue careers in the Canadian Armed Forces. They are leaders in every field of the Forces, from Engineers and Physiotherapists, to Technicians and Systems Specialists.
One of those leaders is Brent Thompson, pictured above, who joined the Canadian Armed Forces after hearing about the opportunity through the Manitoba Métis Federation. “It was appealing to me at the time, and so I decided to sign up,” he says. He became a Vehicle Technician and is part of a team responsible for maintaining, repairing and overhauling Canadian Armed Forces land vehicles and related equipment to keep them in top condition.
“I chose to remain in the Canadian Armed Forces for a lifelong career because I really enjoy learning different things every day, and [working on] different types of vehicles,” Brent says.
He also loves the opportunities to travel and live in different locations across Canada: “I like moving around the country here and there, you know, being able to be on the Prairies one year, the next year you’re on the east or the west coast. I’ve travelled to Edmonton and Wainwright. I’ve been to Gagetown and Winnipeg.”
Canadian Armed Forces experience programs
The Forces also offer numerous paid programs for Aboriginal youth to experience the lifestyle that the Army, Navy and Air Force have to offer without requiring that they actually enrol. These programs combine military training with Aboriginal history and cultural awareness, allowing First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth to learn more about their own and each other’s cultures and history:
Summer Training Programs for Aboriginal youth
The Canadian Armed Forces hold three Summer Training Programs for Aboriginal youth across Canada each summer during the months of July and August. Each program consists of two parts: a four-day Culture Camp led by elders of different Aboriginal groups and a six-week military recruit training course taught by military personnel.
All of your travel, housing, food and clothing expenses are covered during the program, and you’re also paid about $3,500 for the summer. At the end, you’re given the option to pursue part-time employment with the Canadian Armed Forces (but you don’t have to).
- Bold Eagle: Held in Wainwright, Alta., and open to Aboriginal youth (17+) who live in western Canada or northwestern Ontario
- Raven: A Navy summer program for Aboriginal youth (17-29) from across Canada, held in Esquimalt, B.C.
- Black Bear: An Army training program for Aboriginal youth (17-29) from across Canada that takes place in Borden, Ont.
Applications are due by the end of March. Learn more about the Canadian Armed Forces’ Summer Training Programs.
Aboriginal Leadership Opportunities Year
The Aboriginal Leadership Opportunities Year (ALOY) is a one-year educational and leadership experience provided through the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, Ont.
ALOY includes sports, field trips, leadership development, military training, cultural support activities and individual learning plans, which include pre-university and first-year university courses. You receive free tuition, books and uniforms, and you’ll be paid as an Officer Cadet. At the end of the year, you may apply to continue studying at RMC in a degree program.
Applications are due by February 15. Learn more about the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunities Year.
Canadian Armed Forces Aboriginal Entry Program
If you’re looking for something a little shorter, the Canadian Armed Forces Aboriginal Entry Program in Borden, Ont., is a special three-week program for Aboriginal people who are considering a career in the Canadian Armed Forces that provides hands-on experience with military training, careers and lifestyle, as well as an opportunity to learn about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada’s military.
Transportation, food, clothing, housing and equipment are all provided by the Canadian Armed Forces, and you receive $1,200 for completing the program as well as a certificate of military achievement. If you choose to join the Canadian Armed Forces at the end of the course, you return home until the next available Basic Training course starts.
You can apply to the Aboriginal Entry Program at any time. Learn more.