By 2nd Lieutenant Natalia Flynn, Army Public Affairs, with files from Imare Amine, Army Public Affairs
Twenty years ago, 10 teenagers from Paulatuk, a remote community in the Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories, blazed a trail as the first participants in a two-year trial youth program launched by the Department of National Defence.
The program was modeled on the Canadian Rangers in its basic concepts, with the intent being to help bridge some of the unique challenges of living in Canada’s northern and remote communities.
The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserves. They provide patrols and detachments for national security and public safety missions in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada that cannot conveniently or economically be covered by other parts of the CAF.
Youth in these areas often face a lack of extra-curricular activities, resulting in boredom, isolation, few positive role models and other difficulties. This new initiative offered young boys and girls, aged 12 to 18, a range of structured activities in a formal setting, and an opportunity to become more active citizens of their local communities.
In 1996, the trial was deemed a success and formalized, allowing more young Canadians in remote communities to participate in this new and exciting program. This year, the Junior Canadian Rangers (JCR) Program celebrates its 20th anniversary since being named an official Cadet organization by the Minister of National Defence in 1998.
P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North at Trent University, and Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, is proud of the program. “The Junior Canadian Ranger program is the largest youth initiative in Canada’s North, and a hugely successful one at that,” he said.
The program has approximately 3,400 members in over 125 communities across Canada. A structured curriculum and diverse, fun and rewarding activities aim to strengthen the young members’ understanding of traditional cultures and lifestyles, as well as develop valuable leadership and life skills.
Canadian Rangers are responsible for a portion of the training program, mainly teaching the marksmanship and outdoor survival skill lessons, while local Elders and other civilian volunteers provide instruction in traditional and cultural activities.
The program has relied greatly on its partnership with the northern communities in which it operates. Captain Christopher De Merchant, Training Officer for 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, has been with the JCR Program for thirteen years, starting as a resource manager and program developer at the national office in Ottawa, Ontario.
Capt De Merchant has seen the program evolve greatly over time. He explained, “The Canadian Rangers work closely with local community members, volunteers and leaders to help build capacity and design a program based on the unique skills and knowledge of that particular community. It’s a great way to bring the communities together.”
Professor Lackenbauer is passionate about the program. “The JCR Program would not be possible without the support and engagement of the local communities and their citizens who provide material and moral support; everyone from the mayor or council members who sanction the formation of the patrol, to the elders who teach the traditional skills.”
“Many people are involved, volunteering either their time, the loan of their equipment, or vehicles and other resources. Northern communities strongly support the program and hold their JCR patrols near and dear to their hearts,” he said.
JCR participants themselves look forward to the many activities that take place year-round, especially the annual summer training camps, which often provide opportunities for travel across the country and bring JCRs from all over Canada to train together.
New friendships and experiences abound. “The six years that I have been a Junior Canadian Ranger has taught me a great deal,” said Shayden Younker, a member of the Bella Coola, British Columbia JCR Patrol. “I have had so many great experiences. These experiences have helped me become the person I am today.”