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The Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers (CR) are volunteer reserve branch of the Canadian Armed Forces, located in remote areas of Northern Canada. Currently, there are around 5000 Rangers living in over 200 communities, speaking 26 different languages and dialects. The CR were established in the wake of WWII and increased recognition that remote and unpopulated parts of Canada were vulnerable to potential attack by other countries. Their purpose is to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic regardless of whether the nation they are in conflict with (or that is otherwise threatening Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic) is a supposed enemy or an ally. Because the CR are located in remote communities in Northern Canada, CR patrols consist primarily of Indigenous people often “under the responsibility of predominantly non-Indigenous Ranger Instructors.”

A Canadian Rangers Training Camp in Alert, Nunavut (Canada), via Image credit: Daniel R. Harris, 2010.

Tasks of the Canadian Rangers include conducting patrols, reporting unusual sightings, engaging in search and rescue efforts, and collecting local weather data. They are also “often tasked with teaching southern military units traditional survival skills: they give instruction on how to hunt, fish, and trap game and how to build ­shelters in harsh environments,” and act as first responders in cases of emergency. The mostly Indigenous composition of the CR enables people to use their pre-existing knowledge, experience, skills, and community relationships to conduct their work. For example, in interviews conducted with CR members and instructors by political scientist Magali Vullierme, one military instructor recounted that officers at Canadian Force Base Trenton were amazed by the Rangers’ ability to locate a downed helicopter in 12 hours after the Canadian Air Force’s inability to do so in twice the time.

There are also important critiques of the CR, including that the program exploits the knowledge and capacity of Indigenous peoples for the benefit of the Canadian state. By focusing on violent, state-based threats, Indigenous peoples are militarized to an extent, and commits Indigenous people to addressing perceived violent, external threats to support the sovereignty of a state that has enacted violence against them. Focusing on external threats to Canadian security, in this way, could harm Indigenous human security.

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Contributors: Charley Benz Trani and anonymous contributors