Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation introduces first Indigenous military co-op

By Bryan Eneas
January 31, 2017 - 6:58am Updated: January 31, 2017 - 9:35am

Fourteen youth are following a long-standing tradition of service in the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation (BOFN).

The youth are part of a cooperative program between students of the Cst. Robin Cameron Education Complex, the Stobart Community School, the 38 Canadian Brigade Group and the North Saskatchewan Regiment.

Those who were sworn in yesterday, Jan. 30, during a special ceremony will acquire their Basic Military Qualification. The qualification process will teach the students the skills they need to enter into a military career, Lt.-Col. Tony Engelberts said, the commanding officer of the North Saskatchewan Regiment.

“The training experience that they're having is coupled with a social sciences program so they will be receiving two high school credits for completing the training,” Engelberts said. “They'll also get a paycheque.”

He said the program is the first of its kind in Canada.

Engelberts said the cooperative program is considering expansion into northern Saskatchewan. Because the program requires a military environment like an armoury to conduct training, schools within an hour of Prince Albert and Saskatoon are being considered.

Engelberts said he felt the co-operative promotes understanding through its engagement with Indigenous communities.

“I think if everybody reached out a little bit to do a little bit of reconciliation within their own control, I think we could grow as country,” Engelberts said.

For BOFN councillor Kevin Seeseequasis, the swearing in ceremony hit close to home as he served with the Canadian forces for 14 years.

“It fills me with so much pride to see them accepting that challenge,” Seeseequasis said. “To see them walking in the same footsteps as some of their relatives... it’s just so heartwarming and reassuring to know they're being responsible, they're making good decisions.”

Seeseequasis said there were obstacles to overcome. Some of the new recruits had to meet the military's physical fitness requirements before the program could become a reality. Ultimately, he said he's pleased with the youth.

“They've been able to get through those hurdles and see it through to today,” Seeseequasis said. “I'm really, really excited and really proud of them.”

For Christian Seeseequasis, a young recruit who swore in, he is following in his family's footsteps.

“It's kinda like a big thing for us,” Christian said. “My mom was a soldier once... so I thought I'd follow her.”

--EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated to include new information. The Stobart Community School in Duck Lake is also part of this co-op.

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