CFB Wainwright, Alberta — Army members stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Aboriginal elders to give recruit training like no other. Aboriginal youth from across western Canada gather annually at CFB Wainwright to participate in the Bold Eagle program.
The strong focus on Aboriginal culture and teachings distinguishes Bold Eagle from other basic military qualification (BMQ) or basic training. During six weeks of intensive training, the young Aboriginal soldiers have learned drill, leadership and weapon handling and participated in a sweat lodge, smudging, tepee-building and other Aboriginal skills and cultural activities.
“I don’t think it’s a boot camp; it’s a learning experience,” says Melvin Abriaham, grandfather of one of the graduates.
Graduation day dawns, warm but blustery. Conditions prevent the young Aboriginal recruits from the scheduled tepee-building competition; nevertheless, their enthusiasm remains intact and the graduates parade exceptionally.
The Bold Eagle graduation parade combines military and Aboriginal culture—bagpipe and Aboriginal drum—adding musicality to the event.
A testament to the importance placed on this unique summer training program is the special guests attending the graduation – Army Commander Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin; Alberta Lieutenant-Governor, the Honourable Donald Ethell; and the Aboriginal Reviewing Officer, Vice-Chief Edward “Dutch” Lerat, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
“I was so nervous today … marching in front of all those people,” says Private Connor Adair, “[but] it was absolutely amazing and I was so full of pride.”
Core skills offer choices
The Canadian Forces and Aboriginal organizations created the annual program 22 years ago to develop self-discipline, physical fitness,
“It gives you choices,” adds Abriaham. “It opens all kinds of doors of opportunity—in education, in lifestyle—and it builds character.”
Since Bold Eagle began, 1,100 soldiers have graduated from the program. Many have stayed in the CF; others have gone on to the RCMP or become leaders in the community.
Article by MCpl Dave McVeigh, Army News, CFB Wainwright
Photos by MCpl Peter Simpson