True North, Strong and Free
Maybe it was a day of summer activity that compelled Jack Linklater Jr. to take a late afternoon nap in August of 2014. The 14-year-old was an active young man in the Cree community of Attawapiskat, a remote First Nation settlementon the James Bay coast of Ontario. Regardless of what brought him to rest, his nap was short-lived as cries of “Fire!” ripped him from his slumber. Linklater scurried out of the house he shared with 15 other people. When he got to safety, his older sister told him that her two children were still in the house. Linklater made his way back inside – braving the heat and the smoke – found the kids and led them out, dropping to the ground unconscious in the aftermath of his heroic efforts. He was then rushed to the local hospital by members of his family and treated for smoke inhalation.
No one would be so bold as to say that Jack Linklater Jr.’s heroism was a result of his active involvement in the Junior Canadian Rangers, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The program, run under the direction and leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces, is designed for boys and girls from the ages of 12 to 18 in isolated communities. In a sense, outfits like the Junior Canadian Rangers are an essential service in Canada’s North. With an emphasis on what they describe as the three circles of learning, the Junior Canadian Rangers strive to give their members the tools to deal with everyday life, to embrace cultural traditions, and to employ hands-on survival skills. Perhaps his ranger training is what kicked in that August evening when Linklater risked his life to save his nieces.
Canada covers a huge expanse of close to a million square kilometres. While almost 90 per cent of Canadians live within 200 kilometres of the U.S. border, the other three and a half million people are scattered across the nation in remote areas where the Junior Canadian Rangers offer programming. With 3,400 members in 125 patrols, the Junior Canadian Rangers are arguably the most important youth program in many parts ofCanada’s North. It stresses safety on the land and water, and in the personal lives of its members.
On a practical level, the Junior Canadian Rangers curriculum is designed to help people embrace and cope with many of the challenges of life in Canada’s North. The life skills component of the program focuses on well-being, self-respect, empathy, responsibility, community and leadership. Traditional skills are taught to help members further embrace their cultural traditions. These traditions include living off the land, artistic expression through music, dance and art, and spiritual ceremonies. Ranger skills allow members to put their life skills and traditional skills into action. Junior CanadianRangers are taught navigation, firearms safety, camping and survival skills – all indispensable knowledge for people living in a remote area. More than anything, the three circles of learning combine to give Junior Canadian Rangers a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
This is the program that Jack Linklater Jr. feels has made him the confident young man that he has become. According to Linklater, “My dad is a Canadian Ranger and I want to be a Canadian Ranger too, so I joined the Junior CanadianRangers when I was 12.” The Canadian Rangers are part-time army reservists charged with the responsibility of patrolling Canada’s North. The 5 000 strong CanadianRanger contingent operate in more than200 communities with the largest group (the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group) keeping an eye on 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass in the northern frontier. Often it is the Canada Rangers who lead and instruct the members of the Junior Canadian Rangers.
Based on his commitment to his patrol, and the heroism he demonstrated in the summer of 2014, Jack Linklater Jr. was named Ontario’s Junior Canadian Ranger of the Year. He credits the inspiration he experiences when he spends time with his dad on the land – practicing the three circles of learning that are so important to Junior Rangers – as the reason for his success. He says, “We go out into the bush. We practice our survival skills. We make home-made emergency shelters, we go ice-fishing and do target shooting.” Linklater has found a sense of being and belonging in the program, prompting Captain Caryl Fletcher, an army officer, to say, “He’s everything you want in a Junior Ranger.” Ontario Junior Canadian Ranger commander Captain John McNeil, the army officer in charge of Northern Ontario’s 976 Junior Rangers, says that you would be hard pressed to get Linklater to sing his own praises. According to McNeil, Linklater is like most Junior Rangers, “They do their job, they do it well and they expect no praise in return. In fact, most Junior Rangers will shut-down and go silent before they tell you about their accomplishments. They really are a humble group of young people.”
The sense of being and belonging Linklater found in the Junior Canadian Rangers is not always easy to find in Canada’s North. His community on the Attawapiskat reserve made headlines in the spring of 2016 when a string of suicides and suicide attempts garnered national attention. In one 24-hour period, 11 suicide attempts created chaos in the community. According to the band council, the 11 attempts were part of an eight-month stretch that saw 100 people try to take their own lives – seven of those people were under the age of 14 and 43 were under the age of 25.
Linklater must have sensed that something was amiss in Attawapiskat. Besides immersing himself deeper into the Junior CanadianRanger program, he was also organizing “healing marches” to draw attention to the plight of young people who were struggling to find meaning in their lives. The rash of suicide attempts shook him to his core – he knew four of the people who were hospitalized during that fateful 24-hour period. “It really bothered me,” Linklater said. “I broke down. All I want to do is give them advice and help them.” It is this kind of spirit that epitomizes what the Junior CanadianRangers are trying to do. While the federal and provincial governments responded to the crisis in Attawapiskat with emergency resources, there is little doubt that the isolated communities of the north will once again fall into crisis. Whether this is the legacy of the residential school program or a consequence of living in the most remote parts of Canada (or a combination of both) is subject to speculation and debate. Short term resources are merely a bandage for a systemic wound that desperately needs healing. However, one way the Canadian government is dealing with the very real and constant challenges of life in Canada’s North is through programs like the Junior Canadian Rangers.
For more on the Junior Canadian Rangers, go to: http://www.jcr-rjc.ca/en/index.page
By: Sean Dolan
Moon, Peter. (2015, July 20). Young hero named Junior Canadian Ranger of the Year. The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved from www.ottawacitizen.com.
Spurr, Ben. (2016, April 18). How the Attawapiskat suicide crisis unfolded. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from www.thestar.com.