The new Indigenous co-advisor to the commander of the Canadian Army is an officer who spent most of his career stationed in western Manitoba.
Master Warrant Officer Sheldon Quinn of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta has 30 years of service, including tours in Latvia, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He's spent the majority of his career at CFB Shilo, about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg, with the 2nd Battallion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. But on Dec. 1, he'll be taking on an new role.
Quinn was recently appointed as one of the co-advisors of Canada's first Indigenous army commander, Lt.-Gen Jocelyn Paul, who assumed his post in June 2022.
"I believe that the Canadian Army is doing an amazing job with reconciliation, and if we can move that from outside the division and do it at a national level, I think the [Canadian Armed Forces] will be doing its part with the journey to that reconciliation piece," Quinn said.
As a co-advisor, Quinn will be looking at policy and advising not only the commander but the Canadian military as a whole.
"It was something that I've been looking toward since I started progressing through the ranks," he said.
History and perspectives
Quinn says his great-great-grandfather signed an X on Treaty 6 in Fort Pitt, Sask., in 1876. After Quinn started finding his culture and learning his family's history 17 years ago, he was driven to improve reconciliation within the military.
In 2021, Quinn was appointed as the division commander's advisor, he said, which led to his national role in the military.
While serving as an advisor to the division commander Quinn learned many new perspectives.
"If I can learn more myself, I can pass it on to the leadership, I can pass it on to the troops. And you know what it comes down to, it's all education, and the more we learn, the better we're gonna get it."
When it comes to Indigenous veterans in the Canadian military, there's a long history of pushing for recognition, Quinn said.
Indigenous people — including veterans — were not allowed to form their own guard at the war memorial in Ottawa on Remembrance Day until 1994. A year later they were allowed to lay a wreath in honour of their Indigenous veterans.
Canada's military ombudsman released a report in early 2022 noting the military's failure to make any real progress toward its recruitment targets. The Armed Forces has said it wants 25.1 per cent of its members to be women, 11.8 per cent to be visible minorities and 3.5 per cent to be Indigenous people.
These experiences are changing as the military reflects on its role in reconciliation, he said.
"I think the Army's doing an amazing job, especially the Canadian Army with that reconciliation, with giving the Indigenous soldier, the Indigenous vets their due, their recognition," Quinn said.
Reconciliation is rooted in compassion and inclusivity, Quinn said, and letting that compassion happen, not just with the military but with Indigenous people in Canadian society.
"It goes back to recognition and compassion and showing our vets, our Indigenous vets how they should have been included 100 years ago, how they should be included now and they're learning," Quinn said.
"My troops within the battalion here, the leadership was on base here. They're always reaching out, asking questions, how can we make this better?"
He added this push for inclusivity is part of a bigger conversation in the military, including women's and LGBTQ issues. Quinn said including these voices will change the military for the better.
Lt.-Col. Christopher Wood, CFB Shilo base commander, said seeing Quinn named as Indigenous advisor to the army commander is "really a pleasure."
Quinn's new role is an opportunity for him to directly serve as a "champion for Indigenous peoples in Canada," Wood said, and represent Shilo at a national level.
Wood cited Canada's historic First World War battle Vimy Ridge as an example of how working together can build confidence and help the military thrive using a diversity of opinions.
The same principle applies to inclusivity in the contemporary army, he said, that they can collaborate using a variety of different perspectives across the Canadian Armed Forces.
"We will only be better with more input, more ideas into our base, into our army, into our Canadian Forces," Wood said.
"From an Indigenous peoples' perspective, that's just ... one additional piece that we think we can, we can improve on. We're all Canadians, it's, it's all part of our history and ... I think that we're moving in the right direction."