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Native Canadian as a US Marine...

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  • Native Canadian as a US Marine...

    Right as Raine

    A Circle of Life

    Sgt. Leo A. Salinas, HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS, Washington

    Thunderstorms ruin picnics not powwows, not for the tribes gathered in Alberta, Canada. Powwows celebrate life – things like culture, heritage and tradition. Things like rain.

    A mix of mud and manure give a fresh farm smell as security staff wearing reflective orange vests police a lot next to an outdoor rodeo arena. People congest outside an adjacent, boxy building and funnel inside. Rusty aluminum siding and hazy windows house the indoor arena, but only the concrete benches and outside smell tracked inside give the impression that rodeos are held here.

    There’s no big rush. This will kick off whenever the tribes feel like it.

    Gang colors and Old English lettering on jackets mix in with colorful native costumes. Some costumes have bright colors with feathers; some have long glasslike skirts. Beads and bells adorn almost every outfit.

    The music starts. High-pitched wailing accompanies a steady, smooth drum beat played by six or seven groups. Each group huddles around its drum. A boom operator walks to each drum and holds a microphone on a fish pole. The sound is loud enough, and the microphone only amplifies it to roaring levels.

    The beat finds a nice place, and the rhythm stays burrowed in everyone’s chest. The drumming is a competition of sorts, and although the music sounds the same, a few subtle differences separate the musicians from the drummer boys.

    Costumed natives slowly form a snakelike chain of colorful characters. A nondescript elder in blue jeans and a black jacket leads the procession. He holds something that resembles a shepherd’s crook adorned with feathers. This is the Eagle Staff, carried in the Plains Cree tribe from a high-honored position. Little does Sgt. Blaine Raine know, he’s holding it next.

    The First Right
    Raine’s path to the eagle staff starts on a farm in Hoboma, Alberta, Canada, where wheat fields for miles around offer little else to view. The family had cows and horses, and Raine had standard farm chores. This didn’t really interest him.

    In the winters, Raine and his brother and two sisters would build snow tunnels throughout the farm, skate on ice ponds and ride snowmobiles. This didn’t really interest him. Neither did riding horses in the local rodeo and participating in powwows.

    “We lived it, but I never embraced it as kid,” he said.

    Raine was interested in sports, primarily hockey.

    “Everybody here in America plays baseball; in Canada it’s hockey,” he said.

    Sport was Raine’s way to excel beyond the ills of reservation life where alcoholism and gangs spread like cancer. Since as early as 4 years old, Raine remembers his father’s encouragement. He remembers his father pushing him around the local ice rink, the Four Nations Arena.

    Floyd Henry Raine also encouraged his children to excel in education.

    “He wanted us to experience the world and to have something to fall back on,” Raine said. “He wanted us to go to school – not just to show up, but to go to school and learn.”

    Floyd Henry served in the Canadian military and was a tribal policeman, so his children naturally received a well-disciplined upbringing.

    “He wasn’t doing it where we had morning inspections, but he instilled discipline,” Raine said. “There was a hand to the backside, but he didn’t put out a pipe, wrench or belt and say choose.”

    Floyd Henry got involved in tribal politics, running for tribal council leader. This inspired Raine to take interest in his community – maybe, possibly, being a council leader himself one day.

    “I wanted to be like my dad, follow in his footsteps,” he said. “How does the saying go? ‘The father in the eyes of a kid is a hero?’”

    In 1984, Raine’s parents enrolled him and his two sisters in St. Augustine Secondary School in Ponoka, Alberta, off the reservation. This opened Raine to more opportunities, and introduced him to another role model.

    “My fourth-grade teacher was pretty cool,” he said. “She believed in everybody there. She cared.”

    The new Catholic school was predominately white, and relations between whites and natives were not on the best terms, said Raine. This was a dramatic change from school on the reservation, but his teacher taught an invaluable life lesson: Never give up.

    “In a way, she challenged,” he said. “She encouraged potential to come out of students.”

    Raine’s education of life and the world continued. In 1990, with exceptional hockey skills, he was sent to Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.

    The boarding school was – “in the middle of nowhere” – and an eight-hour drive from the reservation, said Raine. However, this gave the 16-year-old the chance to focus on hockey and homework.

    Raine was relatively young in his hockey life, but he liked playing and came from a family of rabid Edmonton Oilers fans. When he played on the reservation, he played with kids two-years his elder. He was good, and his play on the ice was opening doors.

    Suddenly, the hockey blood coursing his veins encountered a strange transfusion: lacrosse.

    The Second Right
    “As one would say, ‘Something happened on the way to heaven,’ I picked up lacrosse,” said Raine.

    High school was pretty normal for Raine. His hobbies were homework and exercise. He still faced racial demons as a native in a predominantly white school, but sport was the great equalizer.

    Passing by a field one day, Raine saw lacrosse players practicing. He began to mimic the actions of the players and soon thought to himself, “Hey, I can do this,” he said.

    “Lacrosse was the one thing that was me,” said Raine. “I pursued it on my own. My parents did not push me to it; they encouraged hockey.”

    After attending one of the team’s open tryouts, the team coach told Raine he saw potential and wanted to keep him around.

    “After that, I told myself I will bust my *** for this guy,” said Raine.

    The coach introduced Raine to another good player with whom Raine shared a common bond: He was a native. Adam Thompson, a Mohawk, gave Raine valuable knowledge that would not only make him a good lacrosse player for the team, but good enough to make the Under-19 Canadian Lacrosse team only eight months after trying out for the high school team.

    During games, players from opposing teams made racist comments, making the pressure to play a heavy burden on Raine.

    “I called my mom and dad and told them that I wanted to quit,” he said. He then hung up the phone, thought about what he said and called back. “I called them again 10 minutes later and told them I’m going to stick it out.”

    Never again would Raine let something get in the way of his goals.

    “I think that was one of the smartest things I’d ever done,” he said.

    As Raine excelled in lacrosse, his parents told him how lacrosse was originally a native sport. He learned that natives made lacrosse sticks out of tree branches. As he got more experienced, he was told stories about his great grandfather who played the sport the old way.

    After high school, Raine wanted to play lacrosse in college. However, finding the right school was a rough process. In 1993, he applied to the University of Denver. Everything seemed to be in order, but suddenly the phone stopped ringing. The university’s lacrosse team coach had just been fired and left Raine’s paperwork open to fate.

    Raine waited until he felt his opportunity wasn’t coming. He moved on.

    Raine played in Ontario for the Six Nations Arrows, a native-sponsored lacrosse team. Room and board were free and it offered Raine a chance to keep playing.

    One of the players on the Arrows also played for Carnisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. The coach from the college came to see one of the Arrow’s games, saw Raine and asked if he would like to play college lacrosse.

    Raine took this opportunity to not only play, but to also prove that he could play Division I lacrosse. He would also be the first person in his family to go to college. He did this to honor his father, and chose elementary education as a major to honor his fourth-grade teacher.

    “The reason why I’m here is because of my teachers,” said Raine. “I want to be that person that gives the knowledge; I want to be that person that helps the kid that everybody has written off.”

    (cont. below.....)

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

  • #2
    The Third Right
    After college, he went back to the reservation, equipped with a bachelor’s degree, a successful amateur lacrosse career, and proof that his fellow natives on the reservation can make a difference and be successful.

    “I figured if I can go out and do something, they can,” he said. “I’m no special case.”

    In 1998, he got a job teaching at the local middle school. He chose seventh grade because, “they’re not that young enough to lose attention, but not old enough where they’re set in their ways,” said Raine. “That’s where they need the most guidance.”

    The elementary school on the reservation where Blain Raine went to through 3rd grade is now abandoned and boarded up. He later would return as a teacher for 7th grade at a newly built school across the parking lot from his old one.
    Photo by Sgt. Leo A. Salinas

    Raine used some unconventional methods to reach out to his students. First, they were allowed to call him Blaine. Second, he didn’t adhere to the shirt and tie dress code like the other faculty. Third, he didn’t give up on students, no matter what their past grades reflected.

    Raine stopped teaching seventh grade and began assisting in a high-school diploma program for adults.

    “I saw these individuals come back and want to achieve their goals,” he said. “I looked at it as ‘It’s never too late.’”

    Raine, then 29, wanted to join the military. His grandfather and father were both Canadian military. And being a veteran is highly respected in the tribe. But Raine didn’t want to join just any service.

    “I looked at the Marine Corps prestige,” he said. “The title ‘Earned but never given’ – that was something I wanted.”

    In 2003, Raine traveled to America and sat in the Marine recruiter’s chair. At first, the Marines did not want to waive Raine’s age. The recruiting office had been let down by two other age waivers who could not finish boot camp. The commanding officer of the recruiting station would not sign Raine’s paperwork. The recruiter had to tell Raine no.

    “I don’t like being told no,” he said.

    Raine drove to Casper, Wyo., where he met Sgt. Jeffrey Harrington.

    “Sgt. Harrington was all moto,” said Raine. The recruiter and his officers believed in Raine, and he soon found himself on the yellow footsteps at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego getting yelled at by people much younger than him.

    “I asked myself, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?,’” he said. “I’m too old for this s---.”

    For someone who had played sports his whole life, boot camp was physically easy. Mentally it was tough. He was away from his family for the holidays.

    “Although I traveled from school to school, I always made it back home,” said Raine. “Now, someone’s telling me no, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

    A family prayer that his mother sent him in the mail in their native language would get Raine through the toughest day. And upon graduation, there was probably no one prouder than Raine’s father.

    “He swelled with pride. It’s the one thing that he says no one can take away from us,” Raine said. “We are three generations serving.”

    The Fourth Right

    Blain Raine, 33, started his path to success on a small wheat farm. He eventually would be the first of his family to go to college, play at the World Lacrosse Championships, and join the military as a Marine
    Photo by Sgt. Leo A. Salinas

    Raine serves at the promotions branch for Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. Most Marines who have climbed the ranks of officers or staff noncommissioned officers have had their paperwork somewhere on Raine’s desk.

    Some at his command wish for him to become an officer. He has a four-year college degree, and his fraction-from-perfect evaluation scores earned him a recent promotion to sergeant.

    “Sergeant Major Raine has a good ring to it, but so does Major Raine,” he said. “If I have to say where my heart is, it’s with enlisted.”

    As he ponders his next career, his personal life is being filled with new adventures. He was married back home on the reservation. It was a traditional wedding, but not in a traditional sense. He wore his dress blues; his wife wore a white dress. However, they were married in a tepee instead of a church with a steeple.

    In 2005, he was invited to play for the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team in the World Lacrosse Championships in Canada, one of Raine’s lifetime goals. His dad was especially proud of his son and his tribe.

    “It’s a big honor to see a Cree playing for a dominant Six Nations team,” said Floyd.

    His father, who watches all of Raine’s games, is careful not to brag. He believes in the old ways where jealousy could lead to cursing the family name.

    “People can call you down and curse you like black magic,” he said.

    Son, athlete, Marine, husband – Raine has taken several titles. His most sacred title, however, came after a recent rite of passage within his tribe.

    The title is translated as “Brave Warrior.” In the old days, Plains Cree warriors would send a scouting party to observe their enemies. One brave soul would ride out to the army, taunting and intimidating the enemy. This was the Naberkasohweno.

    The ceremony is sacred – so sacred that Raine won’t and can’t tell what he went through. When the director of his office asked what the equivalency is, Raine compared it to Marine reconnaissance indoctrination.

    Back home on the reservation, Raine’s title makes him not only a leader among his peers, but a leader for the community.

    Full Circle
    “The military means a lot to this community,” said Cecil Crier. “We always honor the vets. They’re always in the front of the powwow because they are the warriors and protectors.

    Night has fallen over the powwow.

    The men’s traditional dancers, dressed in full attire, some even sporting war paint, are out now performing for the judges. Crier is an advisor to the powwow but also serves as a culture advisor for the tribe.

    Crier watches the dancing with a heavy heart because he also sees the passing of the tribe’s old ways.

    “The youth are lost. Most of them have given up,” he said.

    The tribe offers several avenues to its heritage: Powwows are social fairs with competitive dancing and sweat lodges are ceremonial saunas. However, there are many problems plaguing the community. Gangs run rampant and drugs have their grip.

    “The young parents have lost their kids,” he said. “They let the TV baby-sit them.”

    Crier has begun a fight to save the tribe from turmoil. He serves as a coordinator for schools. One program filters teens through a boot-camp environment instills discipline and character strength. The tribe has youth councils, culture camps, and a Cree language program that targets young parents.

    Most youths are a long ways from the old rites administered by elders, who would observe from a great distance as the tribesman would hunt his own food, build his own shelter, and make his own fire.

    The Plains Cree tribe are beautiful people and proud we are plagued with social issues such as drugs, alcoholism, and gangs just lie any other place and the gap between the youth and plains Cree traditions is getting wider.

    The reservation needs people like Raine, but leaving the reservation is OK with some.

    “I agree with what Blaine did,” he said. “Go out and learn, and then bring the teachings back to the community.”

    Crier knows very little about the Marine Corps, but he perceives it to be elite among America’s armed forces. And he’s proud that Raine has made the choice of being one of the few and the proud, he said.

    “I pray when I do my sweats that my son-in-law is safe,” he said.

    As Raine holds the Eagle Staff, he thinks of the men that have held it before him.

    “Where they put me is meant for men of importance. I never considered myself important in anything,” he said. “It’s my dad’s position; it’s where he’s supposed to stand.”

    Raine’s family has a long history of serving in the military. His grandfather enlisted in World War II. His father tried to enlist in the Marines but had to hitchhike to America to enlist, only getting as far as Calgary before he stopped and joined the Canadian Armed Forces.

    Blaine Raine takes his place at the head of the powwow procession. As a Marine, he now holds the honor of bearing the Eagle Staff. The honor is normally reserved for his father who is also a tribal councilman. Photo by Sgt. Leo A. Salinas

    In a way, Raine has fulfilled his father’s dream of becoming a Marine.

    The Marine Corps wants to send Raine to Europe. Maybe even overseas to the Middle East. The Marines will no doubt lead him out of the country sooner or later. But he has some goals that he still hopes to accomplish. Raine soars through his journey of life with the hopes of his people on his shoulder. A journey that may never be completed.


    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.


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