The Canadian Rangers Patrol Group visited Cree communities in November to conduct several training sessions. Following a week of exercises in Nemaska, there was an opening ceremony and basic military indoctrination for the organization’s 29th patrol in Ouje-Bougoumou.
Quebec’s Canadian Ranger program was first established in 1997, consisting largely of Indigenous members, to provide a military presence in the North for sovereignty protection and emergency preparedness.
“I’m the sergeant in [Nemaska] and we try to get as many Rangers as are available,” said Clarence Jason Jolly. “I like that they integrate our traditional knowledge and practices into the training. Ice rescue training to save someone from hypothermia was especially beneficial to refresh our knowledge and skills.”
The Nemaska patrol group began in 2019, following the establishment of patrols in the four Cree coastal communities. While the Canadian Rangers originated from the Second World War as the armed forces’ “eyes and ears” in isolated areas, it evolved over the years to leverage local knowledge and cultural pride across northern communities.
In the 1980s, Inuit Rangers reported the presence of submarines on several occasions and participated in military exercises. Seeking to expand operations into Eeyou Istchee, seven Crees were recruited into a mixed Cree-Inuit patrol in Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui in 1996.
The benefits of the Junior Rangers program for youth aged 12-18 were an important motivation for Cree communities to support the organization. A patrol was established in Waskaganish in 1999, followed by Whapmagoostui in 2001, Wemindji and Eastmain in 2002, and Chisasibi in 2009.
Ranger training during an average of 12 to 20 days each year has become a way to transfer survival skills adapted to local realities, and to complement first-responder techniques. Training in Nemaska included communication with all types of radios, first aid, and search-and-rescue scenarios.
During the ice rescue, their instructor went through the ice in a wet suit for demonstration purposes. The Rangers learned not to panic as they practiced survival protocols to prevent hypothermia.
“We were doing search and rescue, learning how to work with a compass, using a map to follow the grid’s numbers,” explained Terrance Wapachee. “We have to be ready – you never know when it could happen. Sometimes we get called from other communities like Waskaganish or Wemindji.”
Wapachee has worked with the fire department for nine years. He said Ranger techniques helped him fight wildfires with SOPFEU this summer. Canadian Rangers were deployed to support evacuations in various Cree communities.
Nemaska Rangers participated in search-and-rescue exercises that were shared in a social media video, using radios and GPS tracking to locate a missing person. Since 2009, Rangers across Canada have averaged 14 search operations annually, often in harsh winter conditions.
“We always go as a team, turning back if someone got stuck,” said Wapachee. “We’re planning in February to do another training with the Rangers from Waskaganish. We’ll be heading to a coordination in Old Nemaska using snowmobiles.”
Waskaganish was the starting point for Exercise AQIKGIK in 2017, which involved patrolling by snowmobile over 3,700 km. That year, Waskaganish’s Rangers also participated in the first search for bodies. Their courage was highlighted by a Canadian Joint Operations Command unit commendation.
In 2015, 19 Rangers from four Ontario Cree communities completed a trek by snowmobile across James Bay to Waskaganish, challenging their navigation skills in frigid white-out conditions. Waskaganish Rangers greeted the team at the border with a feast.
“We’ll be meeting up with the Waskaganish patrol in Old Nemaska and doing some exercises,” Jolly told the Nation. “We set up a bivouac camp area, then we follow formations, driving an hour on snowmobiles. We also make air strips out on the lakes using GPS and set up flags or markers for a plane to land for emergency evacuations.”
Jolly emphasized the valuable support that the Canadian Rangers provide the community. The Armed Forces supply tents, stoves and rescue equipment.
“If equipment is needed, it’s the Rangers’ personal equipment that gets rented,” said Jolly. “The best part (of training) is the target shooting. That’s fun because we get C-19 rifles, and all our Rangers get one after we finish our rifle training.”
Sandra Trapper appreciated the teamwork and first aid training, especially useful with accidents in her work in carpentry and construction. She believes every community should have this program.
Trapper said there are more than 40 Rangers in Nemaska. She’s trying to expand the platoon by encouraging family members to register. As master corporal of the Junior Rangers, she hopes to get her younger sister involved.
“After the holidays, I’m going to try to do more activities with the Juniors in the evening,” said Trapper. “We’re supposed to be doing activities for them or sports, take them partridge hunting or snaring. There are maybe 20 in the program.”
Every summer, Junior Rangers are invited to Camp Okpiapik for paid leadership training. In Valcartier this year, they participated in canoeing, treetop adventures, rappel towers, traditional activities and survival lessons. For Trapper, joining the Rangers has been a profound experience.
“It makes me feel like I’m somebody else, helping the community and not just hanging out and working,” said Trapper. “It’s fun and hard too. You can’t predict the weather. You get to learn new things. It’s an adventure.”