Lessons on life and sovereignty in Canada's North

Wed Aug 19, 2009 6:41pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

IQALUIT, Nunavut (Reuters) - Leetia Siakuluk had a valuable lesson on Wednesday for Canadian soldiers carrying out military exercises in the Arctic, near the end of the Road to Nowhere. Don't eat the mushrooms.

The Road to Nowhere is the name of a dirt road that leads out of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut territory, and into the treeless hills that surround the town on Baffin Island. Near where it stops is a temporary camp of Canadian Armed Forces soldiers and paramilitary Canadian Rangers.

"Don't eat it. It will give you a stomach ache," Siakuluk, who was born and raised in Nunavut, says with a knowing smile when asked if a mushroom pushing out of rocky soil is edible. The tiny berries growing near it could be safely eaten.

The Rangers are made up of residents of Canada's Far North and their knowledge of how to survive off the land can be valuable to regular soldiers participating in the annual Nanook training exercise.

The exercise involving a range of military forces is part of Ottawa's increasingly high-profile push to assert Canada's sovereignty in the vast but sparsely populated region that includes the fabled Northwest Passage waterway.

Some of Canada's claims to the Northwest Passage have been challenged by other countries, including the United States, and interest over the Arctic's natural resources has increased with the prospect that global warming and disappearing sea ice will make them easier to get.

Ottawa insists the Northwest Passage sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific through Canada's Arctic archipelago is sovereign Canadian territory, while others, including Washington, argue it's an international waterway.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the naval component of the military exercise on Wednesday, touring a submarine as it dove below the waves and briefly handling the controls of a helicopter.   Continued...

<p>A Canadian soldier passes by an old Hudson's Bay trading post after landing on a beach in Apex, Nunavut on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic August 18, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>