Watchers of the North News

ᐅᔾᔨᖅᓱᖅᑎᑦ ᐅᑭᐅᖅᑕᖅᑐᒥᒃ ᑐᓴᒐᒃᓴᖁᑎᖏᑦ

Last week, in one of the final filming days, DOP Steph Weimar was able to get some footage of Wendy Alookee and Dana Totalik, both part of the Junior Rangers patrol, throat-singing out on the land.

“Really beautiful, actually,” she said. “The girls were great.”

Now, in this three-part series, we’re going to be taking a little look at the quintessentially Inuit vocal style: its origins, its cultural importance, and exactly how the singers create those incredible and inimitable sounds. But first:

Being a Ranger is an honor in Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven, coveted by men and women alike. So it’s not surprising the youth of these communities look for the day when, as teenagers, they can join the Junior Canadian Rangers. As a JCR, they learn traditional skills, are taught ethics such as volunteering and community service, and get to have a great time out on the land to boot!

Last August, a group of Canadian Rangers stood on a hillside near Resolute Bay, NU, surrounded by evidence of a disaster. First Air 6560 had crashed just hours before, killing 12 and injuring 3 in a well-documented tragedy. Less documented, however, was the lightning-quick response time of the local Rangers, and their resilient effort to make sure the survivors were sent for proper care and the crash site remained protected from the curiosity of northern predators.

Today, we’ll start introducing you to some of the Rangers who’ll be starring in our series. There are over 60 Rangers in the Taloyoak patrol – all very accomplished men and women – and while we can’t tell you about all of them, we will present you with a few descriptions that will give you a better idea of just who these Rangers are:

I like to think I can handle any situation, especially when it comes to travelling in Canada’s rugged North. I grew up in Inuvik, in the Northwest Territories, and most of my youth was behind the wheel of a snowmobile or motor boat. I’ve logged a few miles in my day and take great pride in my skills as a “man of the land”. But travelling with the Canadian Rangers in Taloyoak and Nunavut has brought me a down a few notches.

Whiteouts. Seal hunts. Polar bear tracks. Four straight 30-50 mile days. Teaching traditional skills. Exploring an old church mission. A shooting competition. Feasting on raw fish (and Fig Newtons). Jigging for Arctic char.

The stories flew when DOP Stephanie Weimar and soundman Chris Yapp returned from their first trip out on the land with the Canadian Rangers of Taloyoak. They’d been out following the “new recruits” who had joined the Rangers last year, and the four days on patrol were packed with adventure.

Dennis and Paul recently found themselves out on the tundra, disoriented after trying to follow their Ranger companions on a caribou chase. It turns out those animals are fast: they were able to outrun snowmobiles for half an hour.

The other day, production coordinator Tobi Elliott purchased a caribou shoulder from a Taloyoak resident. After defrosting it—the shoulder had been buried in an outdoor stone pile for a month—she turned it into a delicious looking stew. For our crew, whose meals have been less-than-gourmet, it was a delicious and warming treat. You can read Tobi’s mini three-act about it at her blog.

It’s hard to describe what “sub-zero conditions” feels like, unless you’ve been there. You think you’re prepared, with your Gore-Tex coat and your Sorel boots, your North Face fleece and your MEC wool long johns. Sitting in a warm house, electric kettle at the ready for hot tea, and wool slippers on, it’s hard to project yourself into a space best compared to a perfect deep freeze, and to imagine what you’ll need to survive for 24 hours out there.

The other day, a bunch of Gjoa Haven’s Rangers set out on patrol to check on the North Warning System, a line of short- and long-range radar towers that covers 4,800 km west-east, and 320 km north-south. It’s been described as a continent-long ‘tripwire’ that will alert Canada and the USA of any inbound aircraft long before they reach the more densely populated areas on the continent. The NWS was born out of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, set up in the 1950s to watch for Soviet bombers.

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