Nunavut Inuit Canadian Rangers star in Watchers of the North
Six-part reality docudrama launches Sept. 5 on APTN
Television director Dennis Allen, a Yukon resident who’s originally from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, had a few problems while shooting the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s new series, Watchers of the North, in Nunavut. (See trailer embedded below.)
“On King William Island, there are no landmarks. And you’re travelling blind, basically, with no trails,” Allen said.
Add over 20-pounds of camera gear, a large microphone boom and other gear strapped to kamotiks in -45 C spring weather, and you can start to understand Allen’s troubles.
But that’s where the experience of the Canadian Rangers comes in.
The Rangers can navigate by “snow drift, they use the wind, they use the stars, and a lot of them use GPS,” Allen said.
“They’re the best people for the job because they know the land personally and intimately — it’s their backyard,” Allen said.
And that’s the reason series producer David Finch first pitched the idea of following Canadian Rangers for a television series.
“I used to be in the Canadian military myself. And I knew about the Rangers. I knew that not very many people did,” Finch said.
“It hit home for me when I saw an online post about an Inuit hunter who had been stuck on the ice way up North somewhere. The Rangers were able to not only get him, but predict where he floated to because he was stuck on an ice floe,” Finch said.
Finch argues that the Canadian Forces, the RCMP and even the Coast Guard don’t have the navigational capabilities possessed by some Inuit Canadian Rangers.
“There are all kinds of stuff that is happening up there, up North, that people don’t know anything about. And the Rangers are at the centre of a few of them,” he said.
The series, a six-episode docudrama, follows Canadian Rangers in Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak while they carry out duties such as search and rescue operations, fishing and hunting, and patrolling.
Allen had some doubts when he first saw the Rangers equipped with only a red sweatshirt, a cap and a rifle when he started shooting the series in April of 2012.
“You look at them and you kind of might wonder why these people are enlisted to exert sovereignty. But when you’re with them, all the answers come rolling out because they know the land,” Allen said.
But the series isn’t just about the Rangers’ skills — it also touches on the social problems that haunt Nunavut, such as suicide, substance abuse and mental illness, which provide the subplots to each episode.
The message, delivered at the end of each episode, is a positive one according to Finch, but “there’s still challenges to be met.”
“Every episode we talk about things that underpin the main story,” Finch said. “We don’t preach but we want people to know.”
Educating is a big part of the series — called a “docu-drama” because of the documentary nature, but a drama because of the subplots and characters followed throughout each episode.
Allen said he shot the show to “inform” others about the Rangers, and that viewers can’t expect Amazing Race or Survivor-like reality show conflicts between characters.
“I think what the producers were looking for, they were looking for a reality TV feel.
“And when you look at the Inuit people, their lives, they [are] so in tuned with the land, and so in tune with the environment, if something happens they just take it in stride,” Allen said.
“[The Inuit] are very cordial and very civil to one another. So there wasn’t a lot of emotional excitement on their part.”
But that won’t make for bad television.
“For people in the North I’d say it’s must watch because it’s an intimate, nice look at way of life that everyone can connect and be familiar with,” Finch said.
“For people in the South or the southern North, it’s a way of looking into something that they’re not too familiar with,” he said.
“These people are just like me except they live in a different place.”
The first 30-minute episode of Watchers of the North can be seen on APTN Sept. 5 at 8:00 p.m. eastern time and on the northern feed Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Central Time.
The production team for the show is already looking at a second season to the show, which might feature communities in northern Quebec, B.C., Alberta, and maybe the Northwest Territories.
The show’s trailer is embedded below: