Indigenous sailor embraces navy lifestyle

home village of Skidegate in Haida Gwaii

The Haida, an Indigenous group, has traditionally occupied Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, for over 12,000 years. Photo submitted.

Royal Canadian Navy Public Affairs

It’s a long way from Haida Gwaii, B.C., to Halifax – both in distance and culture, but that did not stop a member of the Haida from joining the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Sailor Third Class (S3) Jesse Ryan comes from a proud family of Haidas who have made it their home for generations. His decision to join the RCN opened up a world of new possibilities.

“Our family’s livelihood comes from living off the land and embracing what nature has provided,” he says. “I was a commercial fisherman before I joined the navy, much like the rest of my immediate family.”

S3 Ryan joined the RCN just over a year ago and is training as a Weapons Engineering Technician in Halifax. Leaving his 450-person home village of Skidegate in Haida Gwaii, where Indigenous people make up most of the community, was a culture shock.

“I have to remind myself a lot of Canada didn’t grow up working alongside or interacting with Indigenous people. Sometimes they don’t know how to approach someone of a visible minority or ask a question about their culture appropriately” S3 Ryan says. “It’s nice so many fellow members of the navy are interested in my culture and would like to know more.”

S3 Ryan is aware of the unique Raven Program, hosted by the RCN for Indigenous youth from across Canada. This national program is designed to build bridges with Indigenous communities throughout the country and offers youth the potential for part-time or full-time employment with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) upon completion.

Whether or not graduates choose to continue with a career in the CAF, Raven helps develop skills such as self-confidence, self-discipline, teamwork, time management, respect, and physical fitness.

“One of my instructors during Basic Training was part of the Raven Program,” says S3 Ryan. “Master Corporal Brendan Ryan-Lewis was a lot of help during my basic training, printing off drill commands in Haida for me and informing me about the Raven Program. Needless to say, I was very excited to hear about that program.”

S3 Ryan has some ideas about how to improve the recruitment of Indigenous people into the military. “There needs to be more education about the Raven Program in smaller populated areas, whether it be ads on social media or actual recruiters going to smaller locations. There is always an event of some type being held in a village and if there was a knowledgeable military person there to promote the CAF I’m sure the recruitment rate would be much higher.

“I think a lot of Indigenous shy away from the thought of joining the military because they feel like there wouldn’t be a place for them to fit in, and that’s far from the truth.”

S3 Ryan is currently undergoing his trade training and will be posted back to the West Coast this summer.

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