RAVEN Empowers Indigenous Youth

From left to right: Ordinary Seaman Raelinn Parenteau, Ordinary Seaman Konnor Issaluk and Ordinary Seaman David Inglangasuk pose for a photo prior an interview at the Naval Officer Training Centre at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on July 20, 2018. The six-week RAVEN Aboriginal Youth Employment Program is an outreach program designed to build bridges into the Indigenous communities in Canada and to make Indigenous youth aware of potential military or civilian careers with the Department of National Defence. Photo: Leading Seaman David Gariepy, MARPAC Imaging Services

By Naval Cadet S.L. Delaney

This summer, 24 Indigenous youth from across Canada are gathered in Esquimalt for six-weeks of sharing culture and training with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Now in its sixteenth year, the RAVEN Program invites Indigenous youth to experience the military lifestyle through immersive training that teaches basic military skills while honouring cultural customs. The current students have travelled from eight different provinces and territories, representing Métis, Inuit, and First Nations people.

After arriving in Esquimalt, the students are sworn in as Naval Reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces. From there, they dive right into the first phase of the program with four-day culture camp in Nanoose Bay. There, they gather with Elders to learn Métis, Inuit and First Nations teachings.

While partaking in team-building activities, raising a teepee and sharing in a sacred fire, the students are also building a foundation of trust in their peers and in themselves to carry them through the demanding military training that awaits.

And the training is rigorous. Waking up at 5:00 AM, the candidates fill their days learning new skills like first aid, orienteering and weapons handling, all the while maintaining a steady schedule of physical training, drill and inspections. In fact, in six short weeks, the students will earn their full Basic Military Qualification.

Graduates can then elect to continue on as a Naval Reservist or transfer to the Regular Force. In the last five years, RAVEN has seen 168 graduates, with 21 members retained in the reserve force, and 9 members transferring into the regular force.

Beyond recruiting and retention, the Program also builds awareness and fosters relationships between the RCN and Indigenous communities across Canada. The Program has seen the power of word of mouth, fielding calls throughout the year from parents and teachers who have heard great feedback from past participants.

The students who do not choose to stay in the forces still come away with their first aid certification, new skills, increased confidence and new friends and mentors from across the country. Each year, RAVEN graduates set up a social media page that allows them to continue to stay in touch and reach out to their instructors for employment references or simply for ongoing support.

Ordinary Seaman Basic (OSB) Raelinn Parenteau, current RAVEN candidate, affirms that “it’s great to have people from all over Canada come together like this. I have a new family.”

OS Parenteau is from Chatham, Ontario, and she heard about RAVEN from her uncle, a graduate of BLACK BEAR, the Eastern Canadian Army equivalent of RAVEN. Parenteau chose the RAVEN program because she likes the water and felt the Navy would be a great fit.

Her favourite part of training so far has been the confidence course—an obstacle course that challenges physical and mental toughness, and requires the candidates to lean on each other and work as a team. Parenteau took on the challenge of RAVEN because she wanted to put herself outside her comfort zone and engage with new people. Tackling the confidence course is physical proof that she is doing just that.

OSB Konnor Issaluk lives in Deep River, Ontario, and is originally from Nunavut. His stepfather is a serving military member who recommended the Navy as a great way to develop leadership skills.

Issaluk explains that he decided to join RAVEN because “I was looking for summer employment; I wanted to push my limits; I wanted to learn about being a leader, and I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

Issaluk aspires to give back to his community using the skills that he learns this summer.

“I want to do charitable work back home. I want to be able to stand up as a leader and guide people in helping each other,” he said.

With teamwork and leadership as essential parts of the RAVEN training, Issaluk is already working towards his goal.

Graduating from RAVEN in 2017, OS David Inglangasuk is a prime example of the outreach program at work. After a summer of challenging training, he decided that he wanted to join the military full-time.

He transferred to the Regular Force within the RCN and has had his eye on the horizon ever since. Inglangasuk has been working in HMCS Regina since completing his boatswain’s training last month, and is slotted to be posted to HMCS Max Bernays, one of Canada’s Harry DeWolf-class Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels, when the crew is stood up.

As Inglangasuk looks forward to a fulfilling naval career and hopes to travel to many foreign ports, he looks back to where he came from.

“RAVEN is a great program that provides you with exciting career opportunities. Last summer, we became a cohesive team and faced new challenges.”

The current RAVEN students have three more weeks of training ahead. As individuals, as future leaders and as teammates, they are developing skills and building a community that they can carry with them on any career path they choose.

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