Technology, tradition meet during Arctic sovereignty expedition
The Canadian Forces are combining modern travel technology and Inuit knowledge as they brave rocky terrain, frigid temperatures and strong winds in one of the most ambitious sovereignty operations to date in the High Arctic.
Twenty-four Rangers and military personnel taking part in Operation Nunalivut have been travelling on snowmobiles across Ellesmere Island since March 24.
During a stop at the Eureka weather station, Sgt.-Maj. Gerry Westcott with the Command Post said Inuit Rangers have been sharing their knowledge with Forces personnel in order to survive the rough conditions and 10-hour days.
"We use technology like GPS, maps and compass. They travel by looking at the position of the sun, the ripples on the snow, the direction the wind is blowing," Westcott said.
"We learn every day, and probably every hour we learn something new," said Inuit Ranger Allen Pogotak from Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. "We're teaching each other different ways of travelling."
The members, divided into three teams, will fan across Ellesmere Island for about 8,000 kilometres from Resolute Bay to Alert. The operation aims to help RCMP look for foreign polar bear hunters as well as patrol the island.
'Use it or lose it'
The rocky terrain of ice and mountains on Ellesmere Island has already resulted in two snowmobiles having to be replaced and has also damaged the crossbars on many kamotiqs, or wooden sleds, which areused to haul supplies.
"It was scary trying to go up the glacier. And on the other side you got to go down, too," Ranger Scout Jack Kammuka of Hall Beach, Nunavut, said. "That was scary for me."
But Westcott, who is responsible for obtaining parts and supplies for the teams, said the damage is worth it, to ensure Canada puts its mark on remote parts of the country.
"Use it or lose it. If this is our land we should be here, right?" he said. "Otherwise, just like squatters, someone else is going to show up."
The Canadian Forces say the $1-million operation will ensure Canada's mark on the higher areas of Ellesmere Island, where no one lives and few travel.
Operation Nunalivut is scheduled to reach Canadian Forces Station Alert, on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, on April 10.
Around that time, the teams will install a metal Canadian flag on Ward Hunt Island at the northern tip.