New Honorary Captain says Anishinaabe teachings and RCN helped her become a leader

HCapt(N) Debbie Eisan, centre, receives her scroll from RAdm Brian Santarpia at a ceremony on June 21. PO1 Katerina Stewart carries the DND/CAF Eagle Staff.

HCapt(N) Debbie Eisan, centre, receives her scroll from RAdm Brian Santarpia at a ceremony on June 21. PO1 Katerina Stewart carries the DND/CAF Eagle Staff.

Joanie Veitch
Trident Newspaper

Honorary Captain (Navy) (HCapt(N)) Deborah Eisan’s dream of becoming a nurse and travelling the world didn’t work out quite as she had envisioned.

Instead, the Anishinaabekwe from the Batchewana First Nation in northern Ontario joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) at age 17.

“It was the military that gave me the courage to stand up for who I am and to be proud of my culture and my heritage,” she said. “The military gave me the confidence to express my thoughts and opinions.”

In her 36-year career, she travelled to more than 20 countries and played a key role in recruiting and mentoring Indigenous youth through the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program and various summer training programs, such as Raven and Black Bear. She retired from the military as a chief petty officer second class.

On June 21, she was officially appointed Honorary Captain (Navy) at a scroll and pin presentation ceremony.  The event was held in the Admiral’s Conference Room at Maritime Forces Atlantic headquarters in Halifax with limited in-person attendance, but many watching on-line.

Raymond Sewell, a musician from the Mi’kmaq community of Pabineau, N.B., drummed and sang the Mi’kmaw Honour Song, and Chief Dean Sayers, Chief of Batchewana First Nations, gave congratulatory remarks before Rear-Admiral (RAdm) Brian Santarpia, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic, presented Eisan with her Honorary Captain Scroll and Pin.

“Honorary Captains in the RCN are selected leaders who have distinguished themselves in their private or public life. They act as ambassadors for the navy to the Canadian people,” he said.

He listed her many achievements, including the National Aboriginal Women in Leadership Award of Distinction, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for her work in advocating for cultural awareness of Indigenous people within the CAF, and her work creating the Department of National Defence (DND)/CAF Eagle Staff, the travelling symbol of unity among Indigenous people in the military.

RAdm Santarpia said HCapt(N) Eisan has also played a key role as a “valued advisor” to senior military leadership on Indigenous matters.

“She was, and continues to be, a strong voice for Indigenous members of the CAF and veterans. Debbie, I have to say that we are the ones who are humbled and honoured that you have been appointed as Honorary Captain – you are truly remarkable.”

While her military training helped shape her career, the Anishinaabe knowledge, passed down through the generations from the Seven Grandfather teachings of wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth, has also shaped her as a person.

“Without the wisdom of our elders and our ancestors we would not know how to love ourselves unconditionally and to love others with the same tenacity; to respect each other and the differences we all have, and that each of our spirits are unique and beautiful,” she said, highlighting the teachings of each of the guiding principles.

As one of two military members instrumental in creating the DND/CAF Eagle Staff – carried at the scroll and pin ceremony by Petty Officer First Class Katerina Stewart – HCapt(N) Eisan recalled how in 2002 she and Petty Officer Second Class Chris Innes, from Whitefish River First Nation, each had a dream of an Eagle Staff. They shared their vision with each other the next morning, and the two went on to create the DND/CAF Eagle Staff as a powerful emblem of unity, honouring current and past Indigenous members in the defence community.

“This Eagle Staff serves as a reminder of the tenacity and the strong and proud service of Indigenous people within the CAF,” said HCapt(N) Eisan. “So, you see, dreams do come true, but not always in the way you expect – if we open our eyes and watch for the signals, we’ll achieve our dreams.”


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