Raven military graduates spread their wings

49 Canadian aboriginal youth graduate from military training program at CFB Esquimalt

Training officers and graduates of the 2011 Raven program are framed by a small inukshuk as they stand on the Work Point parade square during graduation ceremonies.

At 17 years old, Stephanie Cameron-Johnson never considered herself a morning person.

But all the times the Langford resident had to wake up at 4:50 a.m. this summer were well worth the chance to make new friends, go to sea and fire a gun.

She graduated with 48 other aboriginal youth last Thursday from the military’s seven-week Raven Aboriginal Youth Initiative, open to aboriginals throughout Canada who are 16 to 29 years old.

“You really had to push yourself,” she said, adding the cadets worked together to make it through the early mornings and intense training regimen. “You really need your teammates. You can’t do it by yourself.”

The program, which exposes young aboriginals to life in the military, is the reason Cameron-Johnson is considering a career in the Canadian Forces.

“It was like the best summer I ever had,” she said.

The course is about changing young lives, Lt.-Gov. Steven Point told the crowd.

“Aboriginal people have come through a tremendously difficult time over the last 150 years, but every generation of aboriginal men and women have stepped forward and veterans are here today to attest to that.”

Some of the aboriginal veterans at the ceremony fought in the Second World War and the Korean War.

“I’ve been in the Korean War,” said Langford resident Ken Himes, proudly wearing a chest full of medals. “Not many people know about it.”

Many Canadians aren’t aware that aboriginals also served their country, said Alex Maurice, president of the National Aboriginal Veterans Association.

“A lot of the old veterans were quiet about it,” he said. “They put the medals in their pockets.”

Cameron-Johnson is a proud addition to that aboriginal lineage in the military, and quickly rhymes off the ranks of military personnel standing nearby.

“You’re a master seaman,” she excitedly told one man. “I never knew that before.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

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