By Ashley Materi, 3rd Canadian Divison Public Affairs
Wainwright, Alberta — The Bold Eagle summer Indigenous program, run by the Canadian Army, celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2019, and for the first time, it has incorporated a military chaplain into the program.
Captain Oliver Edwards, with 20th Independent Field Battery in Lethbridge, who joined the South Alberta Light Horse as an Armour Officer in 2015 before eventually transitioning to the chaplaincy, says that he is humbled to be a part of the support team for the 2019 program recruits.
“It has been a real treat for me to learn about Indigenous spirituality and understand the needs of Indigenous members,” he said. “There’s a huge diversity of different traditions and languages, all wrapped up in one program so we get a chance to support all those different candidates.”
The summer program for Indigenous youth from western and northern Canada promotes leadership skills, self-discipline and physical fitness. It includes a weeklong culture camp where recruits learn more about their First Nations heritage and complete the Canadian Army Reserve Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) course.
Recruits offered cultural and military perspectives to help ease course anxieties
The most common issues presented by the recruits include homesickness and difficulty adjusting to the structure and discipline of a military course. They have the opportunity seek counsel from the Indigenous Elders or from Capt Edwards, but many choose to see both. The Elders and the chaplain offer different viewpoints, providing robust support to the candidates.
Indigenous Elders have guided candidates through each year of the program, enabling them to get in touch with their heritage by conducting pipe ceremonies, sweat lodges and smudge ceremonies. Bringing in a chaplain offers a military perspective to the recruits, aiding in their adjustment by providing insight about what they can expect over the course of BMQ.
For example, Capt Edwards explained that by helping the youth understand why they’re being challenged by their course instructors in typical military fashion, they are better equipped to cope with stress.
“That’s all part of how the military prepares soldiers,” he said. “If you can't manage stress, you can’t fight a war. When people understand that, it tends to make it a little bit easier. We need to go through things that make us uncomfortable in order for us to grow as people.”
Spiritual resiliency is not tied to any particular faith or tradition
The ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma and stress is a key factor to being a successful soldier. Capt Edwards believes that incorporating spirituality is one way to improve fortitude, adding that spiritual resiliency is not tied to any particular faith or tradition.
“What we’re seeing with this course is the integration of First Nations spirituality elements that help to give them the resiliency to push through some of these difficulties they’ve never experienced before.”
Aspiring to be First Nation chief, recruit values Bold Eagle teachings
Captain Edwards notes that he has also seen the recruits develop understanding about the meaning of leadership and service. He spoke with a recruit who aspires to be chief of his first nation one day, and he believes that Bold Eagle is a stepping stone in that direction.
“Those types of things are being awakened in some of these kids for the first time, a picture beyond themselves of what they can do, what they’re capable of,” he says. “It’s a privilege to watch that unfold,” said Capt Edwards.