For the first time since 1997, Camp Okpiapik was held outside Nunavik: it took place in the Cree Nation, specifically in the Wemindji area on the shores of James Bay, from June 30 to July 11. There were 174 Junior Canadian Rangers (JCRs) from all the patrols of the 2nd Canadian Rangers Patrol Group (2 CRPG) invited to this eighth gathering to learn about traditional ways of life and customs, to develop their sense of citizenship and to reinforce their sense of responsibility toward the community.

During the camp, the JCRs took part in many activities centred on the traditional way of life and customs, which is one of the main focuses of the JCR program. The young people were able to make handicrafts, go hunting and fishing, practise archery and marksmanship, make traditional food, listen to and tell traditional legends and stories – all with a view to keeping the ancestral memory, history and customs alive.

Traditional activities

Archery: Participants loved this activity. Besides setting up an archery range, Sgt Doyle laid out a trail in the woods with animal targets. The participants were not the only ones who were impressed: the bear target was attacked by its real-life counterpart! But the target must not have tasted very good, because the real bear left most of it intact and with a few touch-ups it could be used as a target again.

Traditional cooking: Under the supervision of Sgt. Cossette, the young participants prepared goose, fish, moose, caribou and bannock in the Shaapuhtuwaan. Sgt. Cossette had to fend off the same bear that attacked its cloth likeness. It no doubt would have liked to join the feast. In the end, it was shot by a Wemindji resident, ranger MCpl Danny Tomatuk. Guess what was on the menu in the traditional cocking workshop the next day?

Handicrafts: Under the watchful eye of a true artist, Sgt. Journeault, more than a hundred dreamcatchers and canvas and rock paintings were created during the camp. Dreamcatchers allow good dreams to pass through the webbing and hide in the feathers and ribbons of the dream catcher, whereas bad dreams get caught in the webbing until the morning sun burns them away. An ideal gift for someone special.

.22 calibre shooting range: Under the supervision of Sgt Davey, several JCRs scored 100/100, while others were real beginners. But everyone agreed that this was one of the most exciting activities of the camp.

Traditional exercise: During the camp, each group was able to take part in the 24-hour traditional survival exercise, during which they were able to practise a whole range of skills, including building a shelter, hunting, fishing and living off the land.

Leadership training: For the first time, JCRs (holding the rank of master corporal or sergeant or about to attain it) from all 2 CRPG patrols were chosen for leadership training. Sgt. Giard and Sgt. Prince taught basic commanding skills to JCRs who are in command positions in their patrols.

LG2 visit: The cultural component of the camp gave the JCRs the opportunity to visit the majestic LG2 hydroelectric power station. The 160-metre-high dam – as tall as a 55-storey building – is an awe-inspiring sight. The reservoir above the damn is just as impressive. Its 2,836 square kilometres make it the largest inland lake in Quebec.

Visit by BGen. Gaston Côté

After five intermediate stops, much turbulence – which meant using little white bags for some – and a helicopter ride, BGen. Gaston Côté, Commander LFQA; CWO Normand St-Pierre, Chief Warrant Officer LFQA; Capt. Caroline Lapalme, Aide-de-camp to the Commander LFQA; BGen. Daniel Pepin, Director General Reserves and Cadets; and I finally arrived at Camp Okpiapik for a three-day visit from July 5 to 7. BGen. Côté and his party were able to take in the JCR activities, visit the 24-hour survival camp site and the Wemindji community in the company of the community chief, Reggie Mark.

“The Junior Canadian Rangers program is a community effort to help communities support and develop young citizens,” said BGen. Côté. “This was the first time the camp was held outside Nunavik. Having the camp in the south helps us break out of the northern mould. That’s why next year Camp Okpiapik will be held for the first time on the Lower North Shore, at Blanc Sablon. The Inuit are less reticent about coming south. One of the big concerns was that they would be too warm. But it was not too difficult for them to adapt.”

The camp wound up on July 10 with a big celebration that everyone was invited to attend. Maj. Claude Archambeault, Commanding Officer of 2 CRPG, thanked the members of the Wemindji community for their support and involvement.

What the Junior Rangers liked most

From June 30 to July II, 174 Junior Rangers took part in Camp Okpiapik 2004 in Wemindji. The week-long camp brings together young Cree, Inuit, Montagnais, Neskapis and non-natives to experience various traditional activities. Here are a few comments they shared with us.

Katharine Kennedy, 14 years old, Saint-Augustin: “It’s great. We are always busy. There’s no time to get bored. We go to bed tired, but tired from a good day. What I like the most was the 24-hour survival camp. I learned how to lay a snare.” Anna Ningiuk, 16 years old, Inukjuak: “This is my second time at camp. What I liked the most since I started coming is the 24-hour survival camp and making my dream catcher. This is a chance to meet people and make new friends.”

Lukassie Matt Mark, 13 years old, Ivujivik: “I especially liked the marksmanship and putting up a teepee. I made lots of friends and I hope I can come back next year.”

Elaisa Alaku, 17 years old, Salluit: “This was my first time at camp. I really enjoyed the marksmanship. The camp was a chance for me to meet other people my age. The weather is strange, though: it’s different.” Lizzie Nowra, 15 years old, Inukjuak: “I really enjoyed meeting new people and doing new things. What I liked best was canoeing. I had never gone canoeing, or eaten moosae. When I got here, I was really surprised because of all the trees. There aren’t that many in the North. That’s weird.” Paul Beaulne, 15 years old, Puvimituq: “This is my second time at camp. I really enjoy the sports, but it is hot here. I learned a lot, especially survival techniques.”