Naval officers recognized for seeking to improve relations with Indigenous peoples

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Navy News / December 12, 2018

A team of five naval officers who served in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimo has been awarded a 2018 Liz Hoffman Memorial Commendation for seeking to improve relations between the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Indigenous peoples.

The annual award, handed out by the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF), recognizes CAF members, civilian employees and family members who go the extra mile and exceed expectations in helping their colleagues resolve a difficult problem or in bringing about positive and lasting change to DND/CAF.

Sub-Lieutenant Nathan Sukhdeo, SLt Khean Murphy, Lieutenant (Navy) Jeriel Soriano, Lt(N) Justin Milley and Lieutenant-Commander Shane Denneny received the commendation “for the courage and compassion” they showed in their efforts to increase understanding and awareness between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples within the RCN.

Although all five officers have since left the ship for other jobs, four of them were on hand in Ottawa on October 18, 2018, to collect the award, a glass sculpture created by Aboriginal artist Steven Hearns, from Rear-Admiral Art McDonald, Deputy Commander of the RCN.

“We were happy and humbled to receive this recognition,” says Lt(N) Milley, former Executive Officer of HMCS Nanaimo. “It wasn’t our intention to look for recognition when we started, but to effect some form of change within the institution – one that marries the traditions of the RCN and our colonial past with those of the First Nations.”

Through speaking with Indigenous community leaders during a recruitment community relations day sail, the sailors from HMCS Nanaimo were made aware that some current and past Indigenous CAF members felt marginalized and disconnected from the whole.

Armed with this knowledge, the officers sought to bring about a deeper understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultures. Initiatives included the engagement of local artists to create a unique and meaningful piece of art for the ship, the creation of a unit morale patch honouring the local Indigenous peoples, and attendance at a symposium on Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.

The award citation notes that “in pursuing these and other measures, the officers of HMCS Nanaimo have demonstrated that greater knowledge and appreciation of Indigenous peoples can transform military culture in a manner consistent with the Government of Canada’s overall pursuit of Truth and Reconciliation among non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples across Canada.”

“Moving forward with creativity, empathy and understanding is what the officers of Nanaimo did with their initiatives,” explains LCdr Denneny, former Commanding Officer of Nanaimo. “They thought of interesting and unique ideas, sought out guidance from leadership within the service and with local Indigenous advisors to begin to make changes at the lowest level, and in doing so started, what I believe, is positive change within their spheres of influence.”