Eyes and Ears of the North: Canadian Northern Sovereignty and the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area, Sahtu Settlement Area, Dehcho Region, North Slave Region, South Slave Region, Qikiqtaaluk Region

Tags: social sciences, sovereignty, geopolitical climate

Principal Investigator: Romagnoli, Bianca (2)
Licence Number: 16968
Organization: University of California, Los Angeles
Licensed Year(s): 2022 2021
Issued: Feb 22, 2022
Project Team: Paul Lackenbauer

Objective(s): To examine the experiences of Canadian Rangers within the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1CRPG), and investigate how Rangers become implicated in nation-building efforts by the Canadian state.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5083.

The objective of this research is to examine the experiences of Canadian Rangers within the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1CRPG). Through this research, the private investigator(PI) will investigate how Rangers become implicated in nation-building efforts by the Canadian state. After increased interest in the lucrative possibilities of arctic space since the 1990’s, Canada has used Rangers to reinforce its sovereign claim to the region. Therefore, a primary research question asks: how has the shifting geopolitical climate influenced the militarization of the arctic by the Canadian government? Furthermore, how does Ranger work, which has historically been viewed as non-combative, become part of this militarized process? To explore this positional shift, this project investigates how Canadian Rangers are enfolded into a state-making process as informants of cultural and geographical knowledge. How does the existence of Indigenous Ranger knowledge allow for the militarization of the north? Therefore, central questions of this research ask: How does the Canadian national imaginary of “arctic sovereignty” operate through the bodies of militarized Indigenous units? How does the politicization and militarization of arctic land conflict with Indigenous communities’ prior sovereignty in the region? Finally, what are the impacts of Canada’s narration of Rangers as beacons of hope for the success of Indigenous communities as they live their everyday lives? The intention for this project is to not only provide an ethnographic account of Rangers’ work, but to provide a comprehensive study of the individuals who become Rangers and their lives within a community.

In order to conduct this project, the PI will employ standard ethnographic techniques of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and life histories. The PI will work with approximately 30 interlocutors including Ranger Instructors, 1CRPG headquarters personnel and Rangers. Each group will provide critical data for examining each element of the militarization of the arctic. The PI has been granted permission to visit 1CRPG 3-4 times a week for the duration of the fieldwork. The PI will observe how various branches of 1CRPG (command, logistics, training and finances) plan and execute monthly patrols. The PI will trace how arctic missions pass from the command structure down to manageable plans that can be executed by Ranger Instructors when they travel to Ranger units. This will be achieved by shadowing various staff members as they attend meetings, conduct briefs and organize Ranger training exercises, followed by in-depth semi-structured interviews with pertinent members. This will be vital to the project as it will provide access to the decision-making process and institutional understanding of sovereignty.

Once a month, 5-7 Ranger Instructors deploy to different communities throughout 1CRPG in order to conduct the yearly unit patrol. Each patrol lasts 10-12 days where members practice a combination of military techniques alongside traditional Inuit hunting, tracking and survival skills. It is the intention to travel with Instructors as they visit communities within the Northwest Territories. Alongside my participant observation, the PI will conduct semi-structured interviews with the Rangers and Ranger Instructors who participated in the exercise along with supporting RCMP officers and the community mayor (if applicable). A central research objective of my research is to explore how Ranger’s relationship to sovereignty and the state has shifted during military service. Because there is no direct or quantifiable data, this will be achieved by collecting the life histories of 20 Rangers who’ve participated in Ranger Patrols for more than 10 years. A diverse group of Rangers will be chosen (community, age, gender, rank) to incorporate differently structured experiences. Life histories will give access to the interpretative world of interlocutors and how they make sense of their experiences and locate themselves in the transformation of the military and arctic. Life histories will enable the PI to gunderstand 1) the accounts of their lives, and 2) how they performatively reconstruct their life histories. While collecting life histories the PI will focus on understanding how the interlocutors emplot and attach meaning to changes in Ranger activities and positionality

After conducting any research, the PI will ensure all participants have been provided with contact information to ensure they have the possibility to ask further questions or withdraw from the study if they desire. The PI will also maintain a line of communication with the hamlet of any community they intend to visit to ensure their respected desire to not be ethnographically studied.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from February 21, 2022 to December 31, 2022