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Canadians turn to Native dog sleds for Arctic sovereignty patrols

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
Volunteers in Nikolai load dropped dogs on a plane for a flight to McGrath.
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A crowd surrounds 2011 Iditarod leader John Baker as his arrives in the Unalakleet checkpoint on Sunday.
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Fans and volunteers greet Martin Buser as he arrives in McGrath on Tuesday.
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Sonny Lindner mushes out of Unalakleet on Sunday.
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Kirk Barnum tends to his team in McGrath under the northern lights on Wednesday.
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John Baker approaches the village of Golovin on his way to White Mountain.
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One of Mike Williams Jr's dogs rolls in the snow as the team checks in to Iditarod on Thursday.
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Ramey Smyth arrives in White Mountain in second place on Monday.
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Lance Mackey feeds his dogs in the Iditarod checkpoint during the 2011 race.
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Ramey Smyth in the White Mountain checkpoint on Monday.
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Trent Herbst was the first musher into the Iditarod checkpoint.
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Iditarod leader John Baker of Kotzebue shakes hands with former checkpoint checker Howard Lincoln in White Mountain.
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Lance Mackey mushes into the Iditarod checkpoint during the 2011 race.
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John Baker rubs his eyes in the White Mountain checkpoint before taking a nap on Monday.
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Martin Buser talks with fans and volunteers as he readies food for his dogs in Iditarod on Thursday.
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Kevin Apok welcomes John Baker to White Mountain with a sign on Monday.
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Musher Justin Savidis takes a moment with Orion before the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod.
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Dallas Seavey mushes past the church and into Anvik on Friday.
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Iditarod fans on Front Street in Nome greet John Baker on Tuesday.
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Gerry Willomitzer tries to touch a boom camera as he leaves the 2011 Iditarod ceremonial start line.
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Bradley Kruger pets one of Hugh Neff's dogs in the Anvik checkpoint on Friday.
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John Baker leads his team across the finish line in Nome.
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Mushers crowd the Rainy Pass checkpoint on Monday afternoon.
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John Baker booties his dogs before leaving the Anvik checkpoint on Friday.
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Sheldon Katchatag of Unalakleet cheers for John Baker on Front Street in Nome.
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Trail sweeps Lisa Rhoades (center) and Carolyn Craig (left) adjust a bandage on Rick Swenson before he left for Rohn.
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Lance Mackey arrives in Kaltag in 2011.
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John Baker talks with the media after winning the 2011 Iditarod.
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Ray Redington Jr. tips his cap to fans as he approaches the ramp to Front Street in Nome on Tuesday.
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Jessica Hendricks arrives at the Rainy Pass checkpoint as Rick Swenson prepares to leave on Monday.
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Sebastian Schnuelle cares for his team after arriving in Kaltag.
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Mike Santos tends to his dogs in the Rainy Pass checkpoint of Monday.
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Ramey Smyth wraps a dog's paw while resting in Kaltag on Saturday.
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Kristy Barington spreads straw for her dogs Graystone and Weasel in the Rainy Pass checkpoint on Monday.
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Sebastian Schnuelle spreads straw for his dogs in the Kaltag checkpoint on Saturday.
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Robert Bundtzen leaves Nikolai as Paul Gebhardt's team sleeps in the sun on Tuesday.
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A team travels on the Yukon River between the Anvik and Grayling checkpoints.
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The future of Arctic sovereignty will be riding on traditional Inuit wooden sleds that are being assembled by a group of Canadian Rangers in Yellowknife.

The nine Rangers have been tasked with building more than 30 qamutiks -- sleds that are traditionally used to haul supplies over snow and ice — for use in guarding remote northern regions and promoting Canada's claim of sovereignty over the Arctic.

The Rangers, who were commissioned by the Canadian Ranger Patrol for the sled surveillance project, all hail from Nunavut and include six people chosen from Clyde River and three from Pond Inlet.

"We grew up with dog teams and we would build qamutiks for dogs to pull … but today the qamutiks are pulled by snow machines and we're making smaller versions of qamutiks," Elijah Panipakoocho of Clyde River told CBC News in Inuktitut.

The select members of the group were chosen based on their skill and craftsmanship, said David Suqslaq, who is in charge of the operation scheduled to last until Dec. 9.

Suqslaq, who is from Pond Inlet, said he will oversee the qamutik construction to ensure his crew is "working sections like cross-pieces" to build the sleds properly.

The Rangers are trained residents in northern communities who provide support during military and search and rescue operations.

Sleds durable, move across long distances

Once completed, most of the traditional sleds will be sent to Resolute Bay, Nunavut, for use by other Rangers in Arctic sovereignty surveillance missions. Some will be kept in Yellowknife for training purposes.

"In order for us to move over the long distance we do in the High Arctic, we need the qamutik to haul the equipment that we haul," said Maj. Jeff Allen, the commanding officer of the First Canadian Ranger Patrol Group.

Allen praised the way the sleds move across the ice, their durability, and the amount of material they can carry whether they're being hauled by a dog team or a snow machine.

The Rangers draw on their Inuit cultural expertise to build qamutiks, and they are considered masters of their craft.

Where there are no roads connecting Nunavut's 25 communities, the qamutik is seen as a vital means of transportation on the land and a key component of setting up base in remote areas.

"It's great. I'm proud to be making qamutiks for the Canadian Rangers to use," Leslie Ashevak, a resident of Clyde River, said in Inuktitut. "I am really enjoying it."

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.