“That’s what the new money’s for, boys.”
Junior Rangers get $3.6 million to buy new duds
When the three boys from Hall Beach showed him the holes in their official Junior Rangers sweatshirts, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, ever the politician, saw the opening and seized it.
"That's what the new money's for, boys. It's to get you new clothing," MacKay said.
MacKay announced the new money for the Junior Rangers, $3.6 million over five years, in a gushing speech given Aug. 21 at Iqaluit's Cadet Hall near the end of a four-day trip last week that took him to Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Alert.
"The Canadian north has come to represent youth, vibrancy, promise. I see in your eyes a positive and exciting future," MacKay said as he looked directly at the three Junior Rangers, who were seated on the front row to give them pride of place at the press conference.
The Junior Rangers program, affiliated with the Canadian Rangers, operates as a kind of cadet program for youth aged 12 to 18 living in remote and isolated communities.
It began as an experiment in 1994, when a small patrol was organized in the Inuvialuit community of Paulatuk.
After 1998, when Ottawa accepted the Junior Rangers as equivalent in status to army and air cadets, the program took off. More than 3,400 young people are now enrolled in 113 patrols scattered throughout Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Labrador and the northern regions of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
"This program has far exceeded its humble roots," MacKay told reporters.
In Nunavik, there is a Junior Ranger patrol in all 14 communities. In Nunavut, there are 14 Junior Rangers patrols. But that number could grow with the infusion of new money – MacKay said three new Junior Rangers patrols will be created each year across the North, and some of them could be located in Nunavut.
At the same time, existing Junior Ranger patrols will get more training, new equipment, and new clothing. They'll also participate in more joint activities with their adult counterparts in the Canadian Rangers.
The purpose of the program isn't just to train young people who one day might become adult Rangers – it's also to train northern youth in land-survival skills, traditional culture and healthy lifestyles.
So in addition to the money it gets from the federal government departments such as National Defence and Human Resources Development, support for the Junior Rangers also comes from territorial and municipal governments and community volunteers.
"I'm struck by how many involved community members there are: elders, who patiently pass on their knowledge to the junior generations, private citizens who volunteer their time and equipment, local council members and members of government who approve and support the creation of each patrol," MacKay said.
Leetia Siakuluk, a Canadian Ranger from Hall Beach, is one such volunteer. Last week she travelled with the three Junior Rangers – Jeff Ammaklak, Ricky Kripanik, and Patrick Anguilianuk – as a chaperone.
"I really like to pass on my knowledge," Siakuluk said.
As for the long-established Canadian Rangers, General Walt Natynczyk, chief of Canada's defence staff, said regular members of the armed forces could not survive on the land without their help.
"When I come up here, I'm in awe of the Rangers. Thank you. I'm inspired by what you do," Natynczyk said.
MacKay, Natynczyk, Winnipeg MP Steven Fletcher and a group of senior armed forces officers managed to generate a steady stream of publicity for the Conservative government during their trip, which featured a series of carefully-timed events for reporters.
On Monday, they held a question-and-answer session in Yellowknife, followed by Tuesday's launch of Operation Nanook in Iqaluit. On Wednesday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced some crime prevention money for Nunavut, and on Thursday, MacKay announced his Junior Ranger money.
And on Friday in Ottawa, Environment Minister John Baird "announced" an Inuit impact and benefit agreement for national wildlife areas and bird sanctuaries that actually dates back to 2006.
This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to follow these activities with a trip to the Northwest Territories and Yukon, where he was to visit Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Dawson.
Three NDP politicians – national leader Jack Layton, Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington and Vancouver Centre candidate Mike Byers – attempted to steal some of the Tory thunder with a press teleconference held Aug. 25.
In it, Layton denounced the Tories for their "one-dimensional, militaristic approach to arctic sovereignty that leaves many urgent northern issues unaddressed."