THUNDER BAY – Five Junior Canadian Rangers from remote First Nations from the Far North of Ontario have graduated from an Indigenous high school in Thunder Bay.
“It was great to see their smiling faces,” said Captain John McNeil, the Canadian Army officer commanding the junior Rangers in Northern Ontario, who attended the graduation ceremony. “You got to see the results of our activities in the Junior Ranger program, such as encouraging them to stay in school. They should be proud of their achievement. They are a long way from home.”
The graduating Junior Rangers were Charlotte Atlookin of Kingfisher Lake, Christyn Koostachin of Fort Severn, Shawnda Mamakwa of Kingfisher Lake, Gayle McKay of Bearskin Lake, and Tyler Tait of Sachigo Lake.
The Junior Canadian Rangers is a culturally sensitive Canadian Army program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across the Canadian North. There are more than 1,000 Junior Rangers in Northern Ontario.
The graduating Junior Rangers were among 19 students completing grade 12 at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. The small school often referred to as DFC, has a current enrollment of 130 students, many of them living hundreds of kilometres from their home communities.
”I talked about being away from home in my speech,” said Shwanda Mamakwa, the class valedictorian. Her home in Kingfisher Lake is 520 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. “It’s difficult being that far away but the staff at DFC have been supportive. I’ve been at DFC since 2014.”
She won two awards for her skill in being able to speak her native Oji-Cree language. It was two of many awards won by the five Junior Rangers.
Shawnda is going back to her community to work as a welder, a skill she learned at the school.
Like the other Junior Rangers, she has taken part in the Junior Ranger in-school program in Thunder Bay, which is gradually being introduced in the city. Shwanda recently turned 19 and plans on becoming a Canadian Ranger with the Kingfisher Lake patrol. Canadian Rangers are part-time army reservists.
Sergeant Christopher Koostachin, the newly promoted commander of the Fort Severn Ranger patrol, was at the graduation ceremony to see his daughter, Christyn, graduate.
“We’re very proud of our Junior Canadian Rangers at DFC,” said Greg Quachegan, the school’s vice principal. “The program gives them opportunities to learn skills, such as hunting and survival.
“The Junior Canadian Ranger in-school program is running quite well and I’m told it can only grow, which is exciting. It helps them with their education. I would say that for sure.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)