The RCMP were newcomers and needed to learn essential survival skills. Indigenous people shared their knowledge to support the police in many ways. They were hired – sometimes on the spot – as forerunners, guides, scouts, interpreters, hunters, fishermen, wood cutters and cooks.
S/Cst. Andrew Stewart loads a toboggan, Aklavik patrol, 1946. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0093
S/Cst. Andrew Stewart prepares a camp meal, Aklavik Patrol, 1946.
S/Cst. Peter Esau (left), guides Garner King and Cst. Bob Knights into Fish Lake, Sachs Harbour, 1958.
Cutting fire wood, 1922.
Police Interpreter hauling water, Aklavik, 1920s.
Before snow machines became popular, most northern families had good dog teams. Working dogs required daily care throughout the year. They were fed meat and fish which was often cooked, especially in winter months.
RCMP puppies Peter and Paul, Sachs Harbour, 1958. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0176
One of the tough jobs of a Special was to walk ahead of the dogs on snowshoes to break trail through deep snow, making it easier for the rest to follow.
Breaking trail on the Dawson to Fort McPherson patrol, 1920s. NWT Archives/N-1979-067:0061
Dog patrols followed traditional trails used by the local people. Specials knew these routes, plus how to read the weather conditions, navigate difficult terrain, and live on the land. Traditional on-the-land skills were essential.
S/Cst. Peter Esau and Cst. Bob Knights on patrol to Holman Island [Ulukhaktok], 1958. NWT Archives/N-1993-002:0178
In the summer, rivers and lakes connect people and communities. During summer patrols Special Constables guided the police along waterways in whaleboats, schooners and canoes.
Jimmy Akavak, Sandy Akavak, and Matthew Akavak with Cst. McLaughlin and Cst. Marchbank, on Eastern Arctic Patrol, Lake Harbour [Kimmirut], NWT, 1944. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0249
When the police arrived in the Northwest Territories they were not familiar with the Indigenous languages.
Interpreters were hired to assist the police with their life and work in communities and on patrols. Many Specials and interpreters spoke a combination of local languages, French and English.
Language and communication skills were invaluable to the police, especially in law enforcement or emergencies.
S/Cst. Vital Thomas, Rae [Behchokǫ̀], 1962. NWT Archives/N-2003-037:0188
Warm and well-made clothing kept members alive and comfortable while out on the land. Women used time-honored designs and materials such as seal skin, wolverine fur, caribou and moose hide. They also knew how to make harnesses, whips, booties and fancy blankets for the dogs.
RCMP and friends showing off their winter clothing. Old Crow, 1954. NWT Archives/N-1979-062:0145