Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Native Inuit Inukshuk Used as part of Canada's Sovereignty

Here's is an article from the National Post newspaper about Canada marking its sovereignty in the Arctic.

Standing on guard, with a pile of rocks
Exercise Frozen Beaver marked Hans Island as ours

Adrian Humphreys
National Post

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hans Island, the tiny Arctic island at the centre of Canada's war of words with Denmark over its sovereignty, is so barren that even the rocks used by soldiers to erect an Inukshuk needed to be flown in by helicopter, military documents show.

When a small contingent of the Canadian Forces landed on the island in July on a sovereignty patrol, they also erected a 12-foot pole topped by a metal Canadian flag that had been specially designed and built at a cost of almost $2,000.

Details of the secret three-hour mission -- code-named Exercise Frozen Beaver -- are contained in internal military documents and photographs obtained by the National Post.

The visit on July 13 was followed by a second unannounced visit, one that brought Bill Graham, the Minister of National Defence, to the island on July 20 to pose for photographs in front of the flag.

The erection of the Inukshuk, a traditional Inuit landmark built by piling stones, is a curiosity.

The military claims there was nothing special about placing an Inukshuk on the island, even one that is hastily caulked together and fixed with an engraved plaque declaring: "O Canada, We Stand On Guard For Thee."

"While on Hans Island, CF personnel erected a flag pole and raised the Canadian flag. They also built an Inukshuk, which is normally done on these types of Ranger patrols," says the Canadian Forces Media Lines on the visit. (Media lines are officially prepared cue cards used by officials when speaking with reporters.)

However, Inukshuks have not been a part of previous sovereignty patrols and there appear to be no records of other Inukshuks being constructed on earlier missions.

The engraved plaque bears the date July 12, 2005, but officials say the mission took place July 13. Presumably weather delayed arrival by a day.

The Inukshuk is unusual for other reasons as well.

The first item on the Frozen Beaver mission timetable was for Rangers to "select rocks for Inukshuk in Eureka and transport to site." Eureka is a northern weather station.

It estimates the rocks would weigh about 300 pounds, a serious matter for delicate helicopter flights in the Arctic: "Air support load limitation a key factor," the document cautions.

Three soldiers were to spend an hour collecting rocks of an appropriate size and shape.

After flying from Eureka to Hans Island, an hour was set aside for two Canadian Rangers to erect the Inukshuk while two others filled the metal base of the flag pole with stones to weigh it down. The Rangers are a largely aboriginal military unit.

The flag-raising was to take five members of the ground mission 30 minutes, with one person slipping away near the end to capture it on film.

After 15 minutes of packing and cleanup, the soldiers again took to the air in their helicopter, making a final pass of the island to take pictures of the flag and Inukshuk before leaving.

Like the Inukshuk, the flag left behind is unique, designed for the mission and constructed and assembled in secrecy.

The idea was to erect a flag that would always be unfurled, similar to the U.S. flags left behind on the moon. Making it from metal was seen as a way of ensuring it did not deteriorate in the high winds.

Photos of the visit show Hans Island to be a desolate rock devoid of foliage.

A small wooden and windowless hut containing a cot, portable stove, cooking pots, maps and other supplies was found there.

The hut is marked on the outside with the words "Tulugaq '88."

Tulugaq is the name of a Danish Navy arctic patrol cutter. In 1988, the ship took a Danish crew to Hans Island. Danish warships have made almost annual stops on the island, which they claim as their sovereign territory, a claim contested by Canada.

Denmark suspended a planned visit to Hans Island by HDMS Tulugaq this summer to avoid additional diplomatic tensions.

Also photographed on the island was a wooden outhouse, likely one of the world's most northerly outdoor toilets. It lies on its side, housing planks of wood. Nearby, what appears to be 12 rusting oil drums and six gas cylinders lie on the ground.

The Canadian military visits may have caught the Danes off guard, but they have since checked on the Canadian monuments and found the metal flag design was not effective.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller told a Danish government committee shortly after Exercise Frozen Beaver that the Canadian flag had already been flattened by harsh winds.

"How do I know that? We're monitoring the island, of course. It's a part of Danish territory," he was quoted as saying.

OPERATION FROZEN BEAVER

POLE: $1,500

Specially designed and built to detach into three sections, allowing it to fit in a helicopter before assembly on Hans Island. It is bolted into a square base of thick steel and, when erect, stands about four metres high. One hour was set aside for two soldiers to assemble the pole and flag on the island. It took another hour for three soldiers to load the base with stones to weigh it down. Another 30 minutes were scheduled to raise the flag slowly while being photographed. Made by a Yellowknife welding company for $1,500.

FLAG : $401.56

Made of a metal sheet 1/8-inch thick, 48 inches long and 24 inches high, according to schematic diagrams obtained by the Post. The Maple Leaf image appears on both sides. Flag stencil cost $401.56.

PERSONNEL

Documents refer only to five soldiers being involved in the ground operation -- two Rangers, a Ranger commander, a mission commander and a photo technician. Some photos, however, show at least eight people at the flag raising. Presumably the helicopter crew accounts for the discrepancy.

PLAQUE: $98

Engraved in English, French and Inuktitut, the plaque was made by a Yellowknife jeweller for $98. It declares: "Erected by members of CFNA HQ, 1 CRPG, 440 and 438 Sqns, [the four military units involved in 'Exercise Frozen Beaver'] on July 12, 2005; 'O Canada, We Stand on Guard for Thee.' " The mission actually took place on July 13.

INUKSHUK

Built by two members of the Canadian Rangers, a largely aboriginal military unit, from stones flown to the island. One hour was set aside for its construction; another hour for three Rangers to first hunt for rocks in Eureka.

THE ISLAND

Hans Island, located between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland, which is Danish, is claimed as sovereign territory by both nations. The barren rock is about one kilometre in diameter, with a cliff on its south end. Negotiations over its sovereignty are ongoing.

© National Post 2005



For more background information on the native Inuit inukshuk, see the Inuit Inukshuk article. To see some nice Eskimo Inuit art work of inukshuk represented, see Inuit Inukshuk Sculptures.

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