Canadian Rangers
JANE KOKAN
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 5)

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Peering out the window of the C130 Hercules as we approach Resolute Bay, I see red dots darting along the remote and desolate landscape. Aboard the transport plane are Canadian soldiers, some of whom have served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia, and a handful of academics and journalists. After a soft landing on the gravel air strip at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, I realize the mysterious red formations are in fact Canadian Rangers, in their distinctive red sweatshirts, and ball caps, driving around on their all terrain vehicles, with their Lee Enfield Rifles proudly displayed.
 
Resolute Bay, a hamlet of 300 people, has been transformed into a fully charged Arctic sovereignty training ground. Op Nanook is the centerpiece of three major sovereignty operations conducted by the Canadian Forces in the North. Nanook 2010’s international guests included the US Navy 2nd Fleet – USS Porter; the US Coast Guard – USCGC Alder; and the Royal Danish Navy – HDMS Vaedderen and HDMS Knud Rasmussen. But the true stars of the operation were the Rangers.
 
Defence Minister Peter MacKay pointed out, as did many other high ranking members of the Canadian Forces, that the Rangers are the “eyes and the ears of the North.” Appropriately, the motto of the Canadian Rangers is “Vigilans” (the watchers).
 
 
The new generation of young Inuit speak and write fluent English. Many are also fluent in their native tongue Inuktitut. Most of the older generation speak very little English. From left: Ranger Cpl Garry Kalluk; Ranger Paul Nungaq; Chief Warrant Officer for Joint Task Force North (JTFN), the CF's main military force in the North, CWO Gilles Laroche; Ranger Philip Manik Jr.; and Ranger Damian Analok.
 
In 1942, the first Canadian Rangers, known as the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, were established in British Columbia and the Yukon to watch and listen for any signs of Japanese forces operating in the Pacific at the time. They were formally established as a Corps of the Reserve Militia by an Order-in-Council in 1947 and rifles were issued to “reliable” individuals living in remote communities in the high Arctic.
 
In 1998, the Rangers were re-organized into five Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups (CRPGs:) Their modern day role is to provide a military presence in the remote, isolated northern and coastal regions of Canada, which cannot be practically or economically covered by the regular Armed Forces. Rangers utilize their own personal equipment such as skidoos and boats and anything else that is needed to get the job done.
 
The Rangers are comprised largely of Aboriginal Canadians including  Inuit, Métis Inuvialuit and other First Nations people who serve as reservists in the Canadian Forces. The primary role of this part-time force is to conduct surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required. Some Canadian Rangers also conduct inspections of the North Warning System (NWS) sites and act as guides and scouts when southern forces are in their area of operations.
 
Brigadier-General Guy Hamel, who assumed command of Joint Task Force North on 18 June 2010, says “the Rangers are an integral part of our sovereignty exercises and how we operate in the North.”
 
An important focus of this operation is rapid Arctic preparedness – running the gamut from pandemics to oil spills to ship collisions. “This is the first time that the Rangers have been utilized so much in a sovereignty exercise,” says WO Karl Fugère, Training Warrant Officer, 1 CRPG. “They were involved in every aspect of the training. The mission was a great success. We could not have done this without the fierce determination and assistance of the Rangers.”
 
During Op Nanook, the Rangers were involved in land exercises with the troops from the 32 Canadian Brigade Group and marine exercises with the Canadian Coast Guard. The goal was to conduct presence patrols and surveillance operations to enhance the Canadian Forces’ ability to operate in space, air, land and sea domains of the Canadian Arctic. “It is important to demonstrate our interoperability with other government departments and agencies and international partners, in order to build our collective capacity to respond to emergencies in the Arctic,” explains WO Fugère. The Rangers were tasked to provide protection (predator control) against polar bears if needed. They acted as cultural advisors, guides and language assistants with the military personnel during any interaction with local communities.
 
Many of the Rangers present during Op Nanook said that they learned a lot about military procedures, how the Canadian Forces conduct patrols and especially how to interact with the ''military culture.''
 
The Rangers who worked with the Coast Guard during the operation underwent rigorous emergency response training in the eventuality of an oil spill in the ocean or the grounding of a cruise ship. WO Fugère described it as “an extremely positive exercise for both parties. The Rangers learned a lot but I think that this experience was most beneficial for the troops from the 32nd Canadian Brigade Group. They learned a lot from the Rangers including survival techniques, and what the Inuit culture represents.”
 
Meet the Rangers
In many locations in the North, the Rangers are often the only rapid reaction group that is ready and able to aid their community in times of crisis. It could be an avalanche, an environmental disaster, a cruise ship grounding or a plane falling out of the sky. More than 90,000 commercial flights take transpolar or high latitude routes over Canadian territory each year.
 
One of these individuals is Ranger Corporal Gary Kalluk, who grew up in Resolute Bay, and is a member of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group.
 
“This is the first time I have been part of something this big,” he said, referring to Op Nanook. “It’s really exciting. I know that many (southern) Canadians don’t know what we do and what we represent.” It’s true, only one percent of the Canadian population lives in the Arctic.
 
Ranger Kalluk says he would never be tempted to move to Southern Canada. “This is my home. This is where I belong and this is where I am needed.”
 
He joined the Junior Ranger Program in 1997, and became a proper Ranger in 2004.  “I am extremely proud to be a Ranger and I am here to serve my country. I really enjoy it, mostly, we get to go out on the land. I am very connected to the land. I play an important role in my community, as do all Rangers.”
 
I asked him if the Enfield rifle was enough to defend his country. “My ancestors, developed survival skills a very long time ago,” he explained. “Over the years, we were able to adapt to this cold and unpredictable climate. If anyone can outsmart or diagnose a proposed threat to our country, we can.” The Rangers are issued the Lee-Enfield Rifle which has a proven reliability in freezing conditions like one would experience in the Canadian Arctic.
 
He has important survival skills, such as knowing how to build an igloo. “When it is –40°C outside, an igloo can keep an average of 2-3°C inside. If I didn’t have the tools on hand to build an Igloo, I would look for a nice spot to make a little snow den, which I would dig with my hands.” For food, he says, he could easily harpoon a seal. His grandparents were born “on the land.”
 
During Op Nanook, Ranger Kalluk was part of the land patrol, sometimes on polar bear patrol, to make sure the creatures stayed out of the camp. He says he has learned a lot about Canadian military culture and enjoyed spending time with fellow Canadians from other provinces and territories.
 
Melting ice is a danger for Inuit hunters getting stranded or falling through thin ice.  Ranger Kalluk has observed that: “It seems like the snow is gone a little earlier every year. It also seems to be getting a little bit warmer every year. This could become a big problem for everybody up north.”
 
He likes to mix his diet between traditional Inuit food and Western food. His grandfather taught him how to hunt ringed seals and harp seals. He caught his first seal when he was 13 years old. He knows how to hunt the traditional way.
 
For his friend, Ranger Philip Manik Jr, joining the Rangers has become a family tradition. Three of his brothers are also Rangers. He is a quiet, proud young man. “It is really important for me to be a Ranger. I stand for something up here in this Arctic community.”
 
Ranger Manik Jr. was active in land and sea exercises during Op Nanook. “And of course I worked on polar bear watch.”

Like the other Rangers, he points out that he knows how to survive off the land. “I have excellent survival skills.” He prefers to eat traditional food “when I have the opportunity,” he says, “there are no preservatives and it’s fresh.”
 
He says he feels Canadian first, Inuit, second. He said he would be honoured if his children would become Rangers.
 
The Rangers cover a wide spectrum of Canadian society. Some are businessmen, teachers, social workers, or work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as does Ranger Philip Manik Jr. who works part time at the RCMP constabalatory in Resolute Bay.
 
Today’s role of the Rangers, just like in the 1940s, is to report any suspicious or unusual activities and to collect detailed information concerning their local area that may be of assistance or concern to the Canadian Forces, or of benefit to the local inhabitants. The Rangers assist the RCMP in reporting and tackling crime.
 
Ranger Damian Analok, from Cambridge Bay, enjoyed the collaboration between the “southern forces” and the Rangers. He remarked “I feel, you know, like my country needs me up here. I also enjoy having responsibility and being part of the military.” He also encourages other young Inuit men and women to join the Rangers. “It gives us a sense of purpose in our lives.”
 
The Inuit don’t want greater auton omy or independence. However, they would like to have their voices heard.
 
The Inuit are concerned about climate change. Ranger Damian Analok has observed that the thick, hard, multi-year sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate.
 
The suicide rate among the Inuit is approximately 11 times the Canadian average. One Ranger who did not want to be named pointed out that: “Many young men in the communities take the easy way out. You know, they take their own lives. It’s pretty sad.”
 
Michael Byers says out that joining the Rangers is an important form of Inuit employment and provides a sense of self. The program helps with search and rescue and cold-weather training, but one of the critical roles is to provide part-time jobs and a sense of pride and purpose for many permanent inhabitants of the Canadian Arctic.
 
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced an expansion of the Ranger program to 5,000 personnel. There are approximately 4,200 Rangers in 163 patrols across Canada. Ranger Patrols  have a presence from the Alaskan border to Baffin Island. There is talk of giving the Rangers marine training.
 
The Rangers may only be equipped with atv’s, snowmobiles and Enfield rifles, but they know the land, and can live off one of the harshest terrains in the world. very importantly, they can also perform essential search and rescue and surveillance functions.
 
“We have survived for thousands of years up here,” points out Ranger Corporal Gary Kalluk. These proud and relatively unknown Canadians are not moving south anytime soon. They are proud of their rich culture and history. “As a Canadian Ranger, I am here to protect my country and my family. If I am the last man standing, so be it. If it means spilling my blood, then that’s what I will do.”
 
There is talk of a lot of serious investment soon to occur in the Canadian North. Take Resolute Bay for example. In August, during Operation Nanook, Defence Minister Peter McKay announced a plan to establish a Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay. It’s purpose: to support Arctic training and operations, as well as to expand and re-equip the Canadian Rangers and add a deep sea port in Nanisivik.
 
All the Rangers I met during Operation Nanook demonstrated how fiercely protective they are of the Canadian Arctic. Not only are they the “eyes and ears” of the North, but they are the first people on the ground. Perhaps one day soon, we will also see Inuit and other First Nations’ officers and sailors crewing Canadian vessels in the North.
 
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Jane Kokan is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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