From Black Bear to Cape Breton Highlander

Article / May 23, 2017

By Private Kendra Christmas, The Cape Breton Highlanders

Sydney, Nova Scotia — My path to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and The Cape Breton Highlanders (CBH) started with the Black Bear program at Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

Combining military training with Aboriginal cultural awareness, the six-week long Black Bear program gives Aboriginal youth a taste of military training with the option to join the CAF if they want to.

I’d heard about Black Bear from friends in my community of Eskasoni, Nova Scotia but wasn’t sure it was the thing for me. Then recruiters came to my school and got me more interested. I’m the kind of person who likes to experience things first-hand. So I enrolled in Black Bear in the summer of 2015. And so did my brother and a bunch of our friends! We liked our first taste of military life and joined CBH in Sydney after completing the program.

My experience in the CAF has been amazing and taught me a lot. I’ve developed weapons-handling skills. I'd never fired any weapon before, let alone disassemble or reassemble a weapon. I'd never thrown a grenade. Now I’m a trained infanteer and proficient with various weapons systems. But the CAF is not just about shooting guns and doing cool things but also about self-motivation, discipline, determination, ethics, team work and being strong, mentally and physically. Even weapons handling is all about discipline, safety and attention to detail.

Being a soldier has not been without its challenges. The biggest challenge for me was learning how to be outside my family environment for an extended period of time. But I adapted to that and accepted more challenges when I joined CBH. It helps that we have a strong team spirit within our Regiment and I was proud to wear the unique Balmoral Highland headdress after successfully completing the challenging infantry occupational training.

In Aboriginal culture, especially for the Mi'kmaq people, serving your community courageously and selflessly is a very important ideal, and I feel that being a soldier is an excellent way to honour that tradition.

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