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Paul Martin used the rugged Arctic landscape as his backdrop for reaffirming Canada's territorial claim over the North for generations to come.

Standing in an Inuit village of Pond Inlet surrounded by snow-peaked mountains, dirt roads and a giant iceberg in the neighbouring bay, Mr. Martin said Wednesday that the vast region must always belong to Canada.

"One of the responsibilities of government is to protect the sovereignty of the land - to ensure that the sovereignty of land is going to be there for generations of Inuit and Canadians to come," he told residents at a high school gymnasium.

"I, too, am concerned about those who would challenge our sovereignty over the Arctic."

The Prime Minister's declaration comes as Canadian troops gear up for a military exercise in the Arctic. More than 200 sailors aboard the frigate HMCS Montreal will be on a three-week deployment in the region. They will be joined in the exercise called Operation Narwhal by 160 troops from the Royal Canadian Regiment and a team of Canadian Rangers from Nunavut.

Canadian sovereignty in the region came into question last year when Danes placed their flag on Hans Island, an isolated island midway between Ellesmere Island and the Danish colony of Greenland.

Mr. Martin lauded a group of Arctic Rangers who greeted him at the dusty airstrip where his plane landed, saying their patrol work is crucial in maintaining Canadian sovereignty over the region.

"These are the very men and women who are at the very forefront of the protection of our sovereignty and have been for generations," he said.

"I just want to say to those of you in this room who are Rangers, on behalf of all Canadians, how grateful we are to you."

Mr. Martin donned a red survival suit and hopped onto a boat that carried him for a tour of the choppy, frigid waters off Pond Inlet, on the northern tip of Baffin Island.

He noted the wild beauty of the landscape and suggested the economically depressed region could receive a boost if Canada taps into its potential for tourism.

"Over the generations to come, Pond Inlet, with all of its huge beauty, is going to become in my opinion known all over the world," he said.

"We are here in a land that is ageless. A land that has been occupied by a great people since time immemorial. . . . It is a wonderful thing to see a living history."

Mr. Martin completed the second day of his five-day Northern tour. His first visit to the region since taking office in December.

He planned to sit with the premiers of all three territories in meetings expected to centre on health-care funding, regional development and the potential transfer of powers to territorial governments.

But Mr. Martin offered few hints of what he will propose to the premiers.

He said he agreed that more funding was required for housing, and also said he has always believed in handing greater responsibility to the territories, but he provided no further details.