Chief Warrant Officer Stella Blackbird, a Cree elder, shows a plant to Canadian Forces chaplain Capt. Fraser Harvey and explains how it is used by her people.
It was a special first for both of them.
It was the first time Capt. Fraser Harvey, the Anglican chaplain at the Canadian Forces Base in Borden, Ont., had worked with an aboriginal elder, and it was the first time Stella Blackbird, a traditional Cree medicine woman and a Canadian Ranger with the rank of chief warrant officer, had worked with a military chaplain.
“We know we have our own beliefs” said Chief Warrant Officer Blackbird, who is the elder for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, “but I feel at ease with him. We talk about plants and he tells me the English names for the ones I know only in my own language.”
The two met at a training camp for 105 Junior Canadian Rangers in the northern Ontario bush, near Geraldton, where the Junior Rangers called Chief Warrant Officer Blackbird by her traditional title of grandmother and Capt. Harvey by his military name of padre.
The Junior Rangers, from 14 remote Cree and Oji-Cree First Nations, were confused at first by Capt. Harvey, who wore a Ranger sweatshirt but no indication that he is a chaplain.
After an instructor kept telling them to watch their language because there was a priest nearby, some of the Rangers asked Capt. Harvey if he was the priest the instructor was referring to.
“I told them I was,” he said, “and they were sort of surprised at the idea of a priest in the military. There was no church as they know it. Some of them wanted me to prove I was a priest by giving them a blessing. They wanted me to say a prayer for them. I finally convinced them by showing them my Geneva Convention card that says I am a chaplain and explaining that that is a military term for an Anglican priest.”
He said he was impressed by Chief Warrant Officer Blackbird’s knowledge of plants after hearing her instructing Junior Rangers in aboriginal uses of plants found in the bush. “She taught me a lot of what is not in the books,” he said. “I don’t have the knowledge and wisdom about plants that she has.”
He said the camp was a rare opportunity to get away from the crisis counselling and assistance that takes up so much of his time on his base in Borden, Ont. It allowed him to have meaningful conversations with soldiers and Canadian Rangers about different faiths.
“I talked with the elders and the Rangers not only about their spirituality but also about how Christianity has played a role in their faith,” he said. “One Ranger told me Christianity added to his aboriginal spirituality.”
Sgt. Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for 3CRPG at CFB Borden.