By Peter Moon
Canadian Rangers have helped evacuate a remote First Nation in Northern Ontario and delivered an emergency program for at-risk youth in a second isolated community facing a drug addiction crisis.
North Spirit Lake First Nation, a small Oji-Cree community 520 kilometers north of Thunder Bay, declared an emergency and asked for federal and provincial help when a drug addiction epidemic and the breakdown of its water system became more than the community could cope with.
Both levels of government responded and the Canadian Army approved a request for the use of Canadian Rangers to help the community’s youth.
“They were no longer able to run the youth programs without jeopardizing some other aspects within the community that were in crisis,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Shane McArthur. “We could fill that niche for them by running programs for the children, by delivering a program close to the Junior Canadian Ranger program we run in the North. We are one of the best institutions in the North in running a successful program for youth.”
Colonel McArthur is the commanding officer of 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which commands the Rangers in 27 remote and isolated First Nations across the Far North of Ontario. The Rangers are part-time army reservists. The Junior Canadian Rangers are a Canadian Army program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote communities across the Canadian North.
North Spirit Lake does not have a Ranger patrol so the army flew Rangers from eight First Nations into it to work with the youth. The Rangers kept them occupied with a range of activities, including archery, shooting with air rifles, indoor baseball, volleyball, and soccer, learning how to use power saws, fire starting, and cooking food on the land.
“The Rangers came in and kept us occupied,” said Shadow Meekis, 13, a grade seven student. “It’s been fun with them here. I wanted to learn about the power saw and how to use it safely. They taught us and that’s something that’s going to be useful for all my life. We cut wood for the elders. The Rangers have been great.”
The Rangers were in North Spirit Lake for 18 days and only left after the community was able to resume dealing with its crisis. “It was a very successful operation,” Colonel McArthur said. “We helped take the pressure off the adults while helping the youth. We left behind a successful youth program after teaching the adults how to continue it.”
Rangers from the Bearskin Lake First Nation patrol, assisted by Rangers from two other First Nations and an army instructor, helped more than 300 residents fly out of their small Oji-Cree community located 635 kilometers north of Thunder Bay. An ice jam on the Severn River caused serious flooding and isolated the community from its airport. Evacuees were flown by helicopter to the airport to board evacuation planes over a period of four days.
“The Rangers assisted in manifesting and marshalling individuals and getting them loaded onto the helicopters and planes,” Colonel McArthur said. “We answered the calls for help from two First Nations and did what we needed to do. Both communities are very appreciative of what the Rangers did for them.”
Photos by Sgt. Peter Moon
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)