Dreaming big: 33 graduate from Indigenous summer training program at Base Gagetown

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Dreaming big: 33 graduate from Indigenous summer training program at Base Gagetown

A lifetime of hunting practice at home turned into an award-winning experience for one teen attending the Black Bear Indigenous summer training program at Base Gagetown.

Jaiden Johnson, 17, was among 33 youth who graduated Wednesday from the six-week program at the base near Oromocto. The Black Bear program incorporates Indigenous cultures and teachings with basic military training.

- 32 graduate from military Black Bear Indigenous summer training program 

Johnson, from Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, received the "top shot" award for scoring the most points in the platoon during the personal weapons test.  

"I usually hunt and shoot guns with my dad, so he really taught me a lot and I just wanted to keep doing that," Johnson said.

"I learned a lot of things about the military and I'm going to bring those things back to my family and friends."

Johnson said she plans to continue in the military.

'Off to do great things'

The program, now in its sixth year, is run by Lt.-Col. Errol MacEachern, commanding officer of the 5th Canadian Division Training Centre. He said he's proud of all the graduates.

"They've come through a lot . They've put a lot of effort and time and work into this," MacEachern said. "They're going off to do great things and I look forward to hearing about them in the future."

Black Bear graduates Jada and Jannah Levi-Ward, 17-year-old twins from Elsipogtog First Nation, said they joined the program for something to do this summer.

"It was something I always wanted to do," said Jada.

Their father, Malcolm Ward, said he's extremely proud.

"I'm just amazed at what they've done and I can't explain it — ​it's awesome," Ward said.

More military training programs to come

MacEachern said 27 of the graduates plan to pursue careers in the military — a higher number than usual.

"It is a little more than we've had in previous years. We're excited about that," MacEachern said.

The military offers similar training programs elsewhere, like Raven, the Navy's summer program for Indigenous peoples from across Canada and Bold Eagle, an army training program for Indigenous youth from western Canada and northwestern Ontario.

MacEachern said there are plans to launch a similar military training program in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Que., next year. There are also plans to open a military training program in Ontario.

Eighteen graduates of the Black Bear program will go on to participate in the basic military qualification course at the 5th Canadian Division Training Centre in Gagetown.