Indigenous People in the Canadian Armed Forces


June 19, 2017 – Ottawa - Department of National Defence

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

A Proud History of Indigenous People in the Canadian Armed Forces 

Each time there has been a need, Indigenous 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 Indigenous men and women served during the First World War and the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. Indigenous 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.     

Indigenous 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 January 2019, there are approximately 2742 Indigenous members currently serving in the CAF Regular Force and Primary Reserve Force combined, or a representation of 2.8 per cent. (Self-identification is voluntary, meaning that enrolment numbers may be higher than they appear.) The Canadian Army has a representation of 3.0 per cent Indigenous people, the Royal Canadian Navy has a representation of 2.9 per cent, and the Royal Canadian Air Force is at 2.4 per cent. The CAF’s long-term Employment Equity goal for Indigenous people is 3.5 per cent.

Indigenous Leadership Training 

Many Indigenous 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 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 Indigenous People 

The CAF works with Indigenous communities, their leaders, and veterans to raise awareness of what a military career has to offer. Through “CAF Experience” programs, Indigenous 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. 

Summer Programs

The CAF offers three six-week training and leadership programs that combine military training with Indigenous cultural awareness: Bold Eagle (in Alberta), Raven (in British Columbia), and Black Bear (a bilingual program in New Brunswick). Candidates are enrolled in the Primary Reserve, they 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 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 high school graduates (or equivalent) who meet the selection criteria for post-secondary education. As officer cadets, students experience a combination of university-level study and military and leadership training. Additionally, cadets participate in Indigenous cultural development activities. 

Indigenous Spirituality 

The CAF has acknowledged the practice of Indigenous Spirituality as important for Indigenous members. Indigenous Spirituality consists of various customs and traditions which are unique to each Indigenous community across Canada. The CAF has revised policies to ensure Indigenous members are able to practise their specific customs and traditions, such as the wearing of the Métis sash or the wearing of long braided hair. The CAF also offers Indigenous 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 Indigenous people working at DND and serving in the CAF. The members of the Group support the chain of command in their mandate to foster awareness of Indigenous issues and recruiting and retention issues, and also provide a forum for Indigenous people 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 Indigenous employees and members. 

Indigenous Awareness Week 

Indigenous Awareness Week was first introduced in 1992 as Aboriginal Awareness Week. It has evolved into an opportunity to honour the many Indigenous cultures in Canada, including the Métis, the Inuit, and First Nations. This Awareness Week was then adopted by the 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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