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Report says military not dealing well with race, but B.C. base ahead of the curve

As Canada’s military struggles relating to First Nations, Esquimalt navy base offers a better example
Successful collaboration between CFB Esquimalt and the Esquimalt and Songhees nations provides a good example of how non-Indigenous military members across Canada can be educated, according to an expert panel. (Black Press Media file photo)

A report into racism in Canada’s ranks found the military falls short of being a welcome place for Indigenous recruits, but it also says lessons can be learned from Greater Victoria’s naval base.

Defence Minister Anita Anand on Monday released a panel’s final report after a year-long review into racism, discrimination and extremism within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence.

The panel consisted of four retired armed forces officials who represent diverse backgrounds and expertise related to anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion, the federal government said.

Their report states that by the time young recruits enter the ranks, they’ve been “ingrained with a skewed history of Canada” due to education in the country only presenting the view of colonizers and settlers.

That neglects the history of Indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants of what’s now called Canada, and their existence on the land for thousands of years before European intervention, the report said.

Until those education system shortcomings are dealt with, the panel said, Canada’s defence team must step up to ensure its workforce is knowledgeable about the real history of Indigenous peoples.

Among several recommendations for renewing CAF’s relationship with Indigenous peoples is a call for alliances to be built with individual communities.

The panel singled out the collaboration between CFB Esquimalt and the Lekwungen-speaking peoples of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations as a successful example.

READ: Canadian military not doing enough to detect, prevent extremism in the ranks: Report

“The sharing of such best practices and experiences would benefit leaders from all bases and units across Canada, not just those with Indigenous communities close to their military installations,” the panel said of the base and First Nations’ collaboration. “It would create mutual education and awareness-raising opportunities that could be deployed on a wider geographic scale.”

Canada’s military, whose ranks are primarily (71 per cent) white men, does not reflect the makeup of the country’s population.

While several programs aim to boost Indigenous youth recruitment, the panel found the military culture doesn’t welcome those individuals’ unique perspectives or respect their traditions.

“The programs for Indigenous peoples almost appear to be an effort to ‘get them in the door’ so that they can then be assimilated to the traditional military mould, with no further regard for their cultural diversity,” the report says. “There is very little effort to promote access to traditional Indigenous medicines, or spiritual practices such as smudging ceremonies.

“There is no appreciation for their spoken languages and no accommodation for their lack of ‘bilingualism’ in the official languages.”

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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