Aboriginal military mentor comes to DC

Photo by Laura Metcalfe

Warrant Officer Sheldon Quinn speaks to students at Durham College.

Durham College recently played host to a Canadian role model. Warrant Officer Sheldon Quinn stopped by to speak to guests at Suswaaning Endaajig, DC’s Aboriginal Centre.

The event left the formality of military life at the door, with Quinn and the event guests positioned in a traditional Aboriginal speaking circle. The circle represents equality and respect for everyone gathered.

Peace and harmony is something Quinn doesn’t take for granted. He has served in both Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. During the latter, Quinn found himself in an encounter where a Croatian soldier pointed an gun at the vehicle he was riding in, which had guns of its own pointed back, all during what should have been a routine stop.

“It was the epitome of a Mexican standoff,” says Quinn.

In Afghanistan Quinn was made a section commander – a combat role which put 10 other soldiers under his command. He takes pride and solace in the fact he brought all of those soldiers home alive.

Quinn is now a member of the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group. The DAAG advises the Canadian Armed Forces on all matters pertaining to Indigenous affairs.

According to a recent report released by the DAAG, aboriginal troops face racism in the Armed Forces. The report alleged harassment, derogatory name-calling and higher-ups not allowing soldiers to attend sacred ceremonies.

“[The Armed Forces] does mirror Canadian society,” says Quinn. “It is a systemic problem that we have to deal with, and the sooner that we start dealing with it, the better it will be.”

With the backing of the Armed Forces, Quinn started his one-man speaking tour, to address issues such as racism.

His outreach doesn’t end there. He was previously involved as an instructor in the Bold Eagle Program, which provides indigenous youth with a taste of military life. The paid annual program takes place in Alberta and even provides participants with secondary school credits. About 60 percent of the men and women who complete the Bold Eagle program eventually join either the reserves or regular forces. The program doesn’t simply act as a drill camp, but rather includes mentoring and counselling from elders as well as character building.

“[After Bold Eagle] they become pillars of their communities and that’s awesome to see,” says Quinn.

After 27 years of service, Quinn says duty keeps him in the Forces.

“Pride and duty,” he says. “It’s not that I’m a warmonger, it’s the pride that I came back with [after military tours.]”

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Matthew Pellerin is a second year journalism student at Durham College. He enjoys writing about politics, technology, and news ranging from around the world, the local community, to right on campus. When he's not waxing poetically on his blog, he's usually nose-deep in world news.