Canadian Military and Inuit Rangers Work to Defend Arctic Territory

“Maybe just to act tough?” she said.

With about 3,000 people, Rankin Inlet is the second most populated town in Nunavut, a Canadian territory nearly three times the size of Texas with a population of only 40,000 people, most of them Inuit.

For centuries, European colonial powers led expeditions in search of a Northwest Passage — a shorter and faster sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the labyrinth of islands and waterways in Canada’s Arctic.

In 1905, a Norwegian man, Roald Amundsen — who went to live among the Inuit to learn how to survive in the Arctic — became the first European explorer to cross the Northwest Passage. But some of the doomed efforts, most famously the Franklin Expedition, have become parables of colonial cluelessness: European explorers who died of scurvy by rejecting the Inuit’s vitamin-rich diet of raw meat or after ignoring the Inuit and getting lost.

Harry Ittinuar, 59, a former Inuit ranger who used to run boat tours to Marble Island, grew up listening to stories of outsiders stranded on the island, including James Knight, an 18th-century English explorer who was shipwrecked with his crew after failing to find the Northwest Passage.

“One of the stories I heard, they knew one crew was struggling, so they went over in winter by dog team,” said Mr. Ittinuar of the Inuit.

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