OTTAWA – A Canadian Ranger from Constance Lake First Nation has received one of Canada’s highest honours for his years of exceptional military service. Master Corporal Stanley Stephens, 77, was invested as a member of the Order of Military Merit by Governor General David Johnson in a ceremony at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor general in Ottawa.
The Order of Military Merit is the military equivalent of the civilian Order of Canada.
“I feel very proud,” MCpl. Stephens said. “Everybody’s congratulating me. It’s pretty awesome. It’s something. I never expected to be recognized like this.
“I’ve come a long way. I was born on a trapline. That’s where I learned all my skills, my survival skills in the bush. I was brought up like that. I was a hunter and a trapper for many years. And now I’ve met the governor general. He’s a nice guy.”
His abilities to live and survive in the bush are skills he has passed on to many younger Rangers since becoming a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in 2002. He has also helped train southern troops in how to survive and operate in the challenging conditions of the Canadian North. He works closely with Junior Canadian Rangers, the specialized youth program operated by the Canadian Armed Forces for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote communities.
He has served his Oji-Cree community as both chief and council member and is now a highly respected elder. Constance Lake First Nation is 40 kilometres west of Hearst on the Trans-Canada Highway
As a young man he remembers the only way to travel from Constance Lake to Hearst, the nearest town, was by train. It was a time when no hotel in Hearst would rent a room to an indigenous person. A sympathetic station master allowed people from Constance Lake to sleep overnight on the floor of the tiny railroad station.
“Things have changed,” MCpl. Stephens said. “Things are very different now.”
He has been a proud member of the Hearst branch of the Royal Canadian Legion for 15 years, has served as a vice president, and is the current service officer, assisting veterans in their dealings with the federal government.
In the fall he will give the opening prayer at a ceremony celebrating the French Canadian culture of Hearst. “I told them I’m not a Frenchman,” he said. “But I will be honoured to do it for them in my own language.”
“Stanley certainly deserves this honour,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, commanding officer of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. “As an elder and skilled outdoorsman he certainly brings a lot of wisdom to the Canadian Armed Forces. Just listening to him talk you know he’s someone special. When he speaks you know you need to listen. He doesn’t give you advice so much as guidance. He is very special.
“He has seen a lot of changes in his lifetime and he richly deserves this special recognition.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)