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On the brisk, sunny morning of Oct. 24, 2019, Sgt Tony Parsons gathered with his family, friends, and colleagues at 12 Wing Shearwater, N.S., to celebrate his retirement after 39 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent 36 of those years at Shearwater and, while there, learned of his Mi’kmaq heritage.
“I was emotionally overwhelmed during the flag-raising knowing it would be my last salute,” he said, “and I was elated from the support of command and my fellow peers.”
After growing up in Stephenville Crossing, N.L., the aviation systems technician — who has worked as the wing’s environment coordinator for the past several years — said he joined the military when he was 18 because he didn’t know what else to do.
“My dad didn’t fish and I had older brothers who had already joined,” said Parsons. “So I thought I’d follow suit.”
For the first six year of his career, Parsons was a Navy marine electrician, working on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Margaree and HMCS Fraser on the east coast. But in 1987 he made the switch from the Navy to the Air Force, completing his airframe technician trade training in Borden, Ont. He received his first posting to Shearwater the following year.
Parsons laughed about how he transferred out of the Navy but then spent a huge part of his career working on Navy ships as part of the CH-124 Sea King helicopter air detachments. He deployed on HMCS Halifax and, strangely enough, on HMCS Fraser again.
“I spent my whole career in Shearwater except for 1993-1996,” he said. During that period he was at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., working as a maintainer on the CH-113 Labrador, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s search and rescue helicopter at that time.
In the years after Parsons returned to Shearwater, he learned an interesting fact about his heritage.
“Growing up, I didn’t know I had Aboriginal roots,” explained Parsons. “I found out in the late 1990s. My sister found out through researching our ancestry.”
Once he knew that, he was inspired to learn more. In 2003, he was invited to join the local Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) and he’s been with them ever since. In the past five years he has been the military co-chair of the group, working with the local champion to provide advice to senior leadership on issues impacting recruitment, retention, development, and promotion of Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence.
That work has included organizing pow wows and smudge ceremonies, coordinating use of the sweat lodge at MacDonald Beach, and carrying an Aboriginal Eagle Staff at events such as the annual Treaty Day (Oct. 1) ceremony at the Grand Parade Square in Halifax.
“Sergeant Parsons’ dedication to the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group for well over a decade has been nothing short of exemplary,” says Capt (Navy) Matt Bowen, commander of the Maritime Forces Atlantic Sea Training Group and champion of the Atlantic DAAG.
“As has his willingness to both share his knowledge of indigenous issues and to support traditional activities like the sweat lodge. The team and I will sorely miss his commitment and quiet professionalism, but he certainly leaves a lasting legacy in both the beautiful Eagle Staff he created with his own hands, and the broad network of friends and partners he established over the years to enable the DAAG’s ongoing work. I wish him, and his family, a safe and enjoyable retirement.”
Parsons plans to enjoy his retirement but said he’s not leaving the area.
“I’ll be here to help if needed”, he said.