By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
The Commander of 5th Canadian Division Support Group (5 CDSG) Gagetown says efforts are underway to bring an Indigenous Elder to the base in an official capacity.
“When the Chaplain General was here back in the fall of 2017, we brought to him this notion of incorporating an Elder as part of our base spiritual structure,” said Colonel Keith Osmond. “He seems very keen on the idea. Across the Canadian Armed Forces we have Imams, Rabbis – yet we don’t have an Indigenous Elder on staff here at the padre’s office.”
“I think we’re going to get there,” he added, “and I think we’re going to get there before I leave here in a little over a year. I’m encouraged by the rate at which we’re moving.”
The idea is just the latest advancement in relations between the base and First Nations communities in the area – a relationship Col Osmond has made a priority since taking command of 5 CDSG in early 2017.
“I went to Afghanistan for the better part of a year, and I spent three months reading about the culture of the Afghan people,” Col Osmond recalled. “I went to Syria for a year and learned about the people and all the conflict in the area. And yet my level of knowledge on Indigenous Peoples here was minimal at best. So I resolved to learn more as a form of professional development.”
Col Osmond began by reaching out to Imelda Perley, Indigenous Elder-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick, and Warrant Officer Moogly Tetrault-Hamel, Indigenous Advisor to the Canadian Forces Chaplain General.
They filled gaps in Col Osmond’s knowledge of Indigenous cultural practices generally and their place in the Canadian Armed Forces specifically, which eased the process of getting to know local Indigenous leaders.
“Elder Perley told me more about the people, the Creator and a lot of the spiritual ties that Indigenous people have; it was enlightening. So enlightening, in fact, that I said, ‘We have to do this again.’ So we’ve been in contact frequently, and she makes me more knowledgeable every time we meet.”
“WO Tetrault-Hamel and I were on the phone for about four hours one afternoon,” he added. “It was amazing. I only realized at the end of that four hours how little I knew. He went back through the history of Canada, working his way up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and explained why there are certain cultural points of friction between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government.”
Greg Mansfield is part of 5 CDSG’s civilian staff, and volunteers as civilian co-chair of its Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG). He agreed the relationship between base personnel and the local Indigenous community is moving in a positive direction after a long period of being merely neutral.
Mr. Mansfield, who hails from Meligger, Wildcat First Nation, North Queens, Nova Scotia, has been volunteering his time to act as a bridge between the base and five First Nations communities around it for nearly a decade. He said the relationship is very much on an upward curve more recently.
“We’re on a really good climb now,” he said. “Everything is positive and very rewarding. People are catching on to what we’re doing.”
Lieutenant Kenneth Harquail, DAAG military co-chair, said strong links have been forged between the military and Indigenous communities through cooperative projects such as the construction of a sweat lodge on Oromocto First Nation land last year.
“That was a real eye-opener for a lot of people,” he recalled. “They saw us not as the military, but as equals. I see there’s a change happening, so it’s good. I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ve seen a big difference.”