Military takes Arctic trip

ELIZABETH THOMPSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 PM ET

ROAD TO NOWHERE, IQALUIT -- At first glance, the landscape appears barren, a mixture of moss, rocks and small plants struggling to survive in one of Canada's harshest environments.

But to Canadian Rangers Leetia Siakuluk and Mavis Taqtu, there's plenty of food, if you know where to look.

Blackberries and blueberries cling to small plants only millimetres off the ground. There are tiny red berries that taste like cranberries.

But stay away from the white mushrooms, Siakuluk warns. "You could get a stomach ache or you could get diarrhea."

How to survive in the unforgiving environment of Canada's Arctic is just one of the things members of the Canadian Armed Forces are learning from Rangers like Siakuluk and Taqtu as part of Operation Nanook 09. The military exercise also marks the first time the Rangers, local members of the armed forces reserve who act as eyes and ears in the Arctic, have been this incorporated into a military exercise.

"There is a shifting of focus on the use of the Rangers to do with more of a focus on the North and military operations, to get them more involved and more used to the military side," explained Maj. Mike Clarry.

"This exercise is the first time that we have practised some of that and incorporated them into a military exercise as opposed to having military personnel go on one of their patrols."

POLAR BEARS

Rangers have been going out with soldiers, teaching them about the land and watching out for potential predators like polar bears.

In return, the Rangers have been learning from the military and getting used to working more closely with them.

"We learn from them and they learn from us," said Ranger Greg Spenner of Whitehorse. "There are lots of questions."

As global warming opens the Northwest Passage to navigation and Arctic mineral and oil resources to development, the government has stepped up efforts to reinforce Canada's claim to the territory.

Military exercises such as Nanook are a key element of that strategy.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited members of the Armed Forces participating in the exercise aboard the ship HMCS Toronto and the HMCS Corner Brook submarine.

For those like Spenner, who lives in the Yukon where snowmobiles regularly cross the border from Alaska, the prospect of another country laying claim to part of the Arctic is very real.

"I think it is very serious. It belongs to Canada."

ELIZABETH.THOMPSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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