Sgt. Roger Hitkolok plans to lead seven other Kugluktuk Rangers on a boat trip to Victoria Island this week to help track activity in the Northwest Passage.
They’re part of Operation Nanook, an annual military sovereignty, safety and security exercise that will ramp up over the next several weeks.
Hitkolok expects to be gone for six days, returning on Aug. 13, and then make a similar trek again in September.
“There’s so much ships going through now that people don’t know about,” Hitkolok said. “They (the military) just want to see what’s going on out there. We’ve got to take some information and pictures, if we can get close enough to take pictures.”
Approximately 50 Rangers from several communities and an Air Force Twin Otter will keep an eye on increasing traffic in the Northwest Passage into September. There’s also growing activity in the air with polar route flights rising to 14,000 in 2016 from 1,000 in 2003, according to the Canadian Armed Forces.
The higher volume of commercial, research and tourist traffic poses safety and security risks; emergency responses to natural and human-caused disasters must be rehearsed; and there’s widening interest in Arctic fossil fuels and minerals, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) stated.
“The CAF acknowledges the importance and unique nature of the Canadian Arctic by considering it a theatre of operations, where Operation Nanook complements other Arctic operations by providing training, partnership building and (research and development) opportunities to our mission partners,” stated Captain Ian Grant, a military public affairs officer.
The RCMP, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are also participating in this year’s operation, which officially kicked off on July 16.
Last year’s Operation Nanook involved close to 900 soldiers, Rangers and civilians combined. It was split between Rankin Inlet and Voisey’s Bay, Labrador.
Hitkolok, who has been a Ranger since 1993, said the Arctic military exercises are beneficial because they allow southern military personnel to get a sense of what life is like in the North.
He said the time on the land can bring some pleasant surprises as well. He recounted an expedition where he was helping to guide Junior Rangers a few years ago.
“We took them out west of Kugluktuk. When we were there a big herd came through, of caribou. It was the middle of the night. We watched these caribou until we went to sleep. They were right outside the tent. There were so many,” Hitkolok recalled. “The young Junior Rangers were so excited about that.”
Ranger groups active in Nunavut communities during Operation Nanook:
Kugluktuk – Aug. 8
Pond Inlet – Aug. 9
Taloyoak – Aug. 24
Cambridge Bay – Aug. 28
Kugluktuk – Aug. 31
Gjoa Haven – Sept. 2