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precede this review of Kim Han’s The Canadian
Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North with full
disclosure. My husband, Mark, and I first met in
person the accomplished and highly regarded dog
teamer, Siu-Ling Han, on May 4, 2006 at the airport in
Ottawa, Ontario Canada where she transferred ownership
of Fiddich, a retired Inuit Dog from her original
team, to us. We enjoyed a lasting relationship right
up until her untimely passing in 2016.
Along that friendship trail were many interchanges,
the last one two weeks before she died when we
reassured her of our commitment to provide a
retirement home for any dogs from her team if its new
owners felt we were the best option for them. We came
to know “S-L’s” Mom and Dad, Kim and Bing, as well.
Readers of Kim’s book will learn of my involvement in
the process that led to its publication. Of course it
should come as no surprise that, with some exceptions,
Kim and I are like-minded on the subject of the
Canadian Inuit Dog as described in her writing. Having
said that, let me assure all of you that my position
bore no influence upon my opinions expressed in this
review. And, oh yes, I paid for my copy.
Media Review....The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North
by Kim Han
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
The second thing readers will notice, after seeing the three-dimensional cover layout of The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North, is the feel of the paper it is printed on. I’ve held countless paperback volumes but none that felt as soft and silky smooth…and vibrant, unlike the more common shiny, slippery materials used on other books. The tactile sensation was an attention-getter for sure. Maybe in this case, contradictory to the old saying, a book can be judged by its cover.
I didn’t immediately begin reading starting with page one, but instead flipped through front to back to get a quick overview. What I discovered was yet another difference from other books. Every titled section, from foreword to bibliography was introduced by a different lovely edge-to-edge image… very eye-catching.
It is worth mentioning that Han devotes thirty-two pages in three sections before chapter one. Nunavik dog teamer Allen Gordon’s foreword is a succinct and well-written gateway that raises the curtain on the world of the Canadian Inuit Dog. In her preface, Han explains to readers her motivation for her eight-year journey that brought her work to publication. In doing so she depicts what it is like for a dog teamer, her daughter Siu-Ling, to raise and use these traditional working animals, for the author to take a wild ride on a qamutiik and even to keeping retired dogs. In the introduction readers get to meet Inuk Elder Elijah Padluq (Han traveled to his home in Kimmirut, Nunavut to interview him) who, along with others in this book, recounts life on the land with their dog-partners.
Ten chapters reveal the exhaustive research Han devoted to her book’s creation. She covers the historical timeline (ancient to recent), taxonomy (nomenclature), science (the circulatory system, the physiology of performance, evolutionary genetics and effects of domestication); health, social behavior; use by explorers (from hundreds of years ago to the 20th century) and of course in partnership with Inuit, then and now. She weaves a tapestry of Inuit social history, traditions and cultural practices throughout, many of which were narrated by Inuit Elders. Readers will learn the real meaning and importance of the Nunavut Quest, Qimualaniq Quest and Ivakkak dog team “races”. Han was undaunted about presenting sensitive issues affecting Inuit nomadic life as a result of forced relocations and the killing of their working dogs in the mid-20th century. She also contrasts the aboriginal landrace Canadian Inuit Dog and the cultured breed Canadian Kennel Club registered Canadian Eskimo Dog. While I found so much to love about The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North, I do wish Han had drawn more succinct conclusions codifying the difference between the two dogs, also devoting less space to the latter. And in her description of Belyaev’s landmark fur fox domestication experiment, I would have liked to have seen a very strong parallel between the loss of the animal’s most valued feature, its distinct pelage, as a result of breeding based solely on biddable (e.g., domestic) behavior, comparing this example favorably to the transformation from aboriginal to cultured dog. The significance of Belyaev’s work in this regard cannot be overstated.
Then there’s some “small stuff” that caught my attention. Han’s eye for detail clarifies, the issue of barking, the term “malamute”, the gait known as pacing. Over the years these issues have caused me to recoil at the flawed commentaries about them made by the unenlightened.
Han’s writing is rich in details presented in comfortable prose. The many Inuktitut terms she’s included are defined, and there’s a special section highlighting several words for different classifications of Inuit Dogs. There is a very generous inclusion of photos, both archival and modern (including ones donated by professional photographers who were eager to support Han’s book) appropriately placed to exemplify text. Most images of Inuit Dogs show them in their natural habitat.
I especially liked the way she wove elements of her interview with Elijah Padluq throughout the book including her final chapter. Although brief, chapter ten is a lovely wrap-up.
Han opened her preface with, “Why would a librarian from Ottawa, Ontario who has never lived in the Arctic or managed a dog team write a book about the Canadian Inuit dog?” The profound love and admiration of her daughter, who only lived long enough to hold the fresh publishing contract to her heart, was the elder Han’s driving force. And it’s quite likely that in spirit, Siu-Ling remained nearby her mother’s computer as the online research progressed and along side her typewriter as the words came forth.
Copper Inuit sled near Cape Krusenstern, Northwest Territories (Nunavut).
Photo by Diamond Jenness, 1915, displayed in 2-page spread.
Image: Courtesy Canadian Museum of History.
Readers may also wonder just how a “librarian from Ottawa, Ontario who has never lived in the Arctic or managed a dog team” could successfully write such a book. Han’s skills as a librarian, her living near physical access to several fabulous Ottawa museum resources for on-site research and image acquisition, her firsthand knowledge, thanks to her daughter, into the world of the aboriginal landrace Canadian Inuit Dog, and her many Canadian Arctic friends – skilled and renowned dog teamers all – provided her support, resources and tales that have helped make The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North a fresh perspective, a must-have book to be enjoyed by Inuit Sled Dog and all northern working dog enthusiasts.
To further honor her daughter’s memory by writing The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North, Kim Han says she will “donate my royalties to Qimmivut, a program of the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River, Nunavut. It is a non-profit Inuit organization that provides Inuit youth with an opportunity to be out on the land with recognized hunters, dog team owners and Elders. Working with dogs is at the heart of Inuit culture. It passes on traditional land skills, values and knowledge, and Inuit relationships with dogs, as well as all aspects of living a good, healthy lifestyle to promote and support youth mental health, in honor of Siu-Ling's wish to help where help is needed and to make this world a little better.”
Han has already received many requests for signed copies of her book. To spare the work and expense of receiving then repackaging and return book shipping, she has created special sticky-backed bookplates and will personally sign each one as requested. These bookplates will conveniently fit in a standard envelope.
The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North by Kim Han, ISBN 978-1-943824-42-7; Revodana Publishing; is a 9” x 6”, 239 page paperback. It is available through Revodana Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Personalized bookplates are available upon request to Kim Han for the cost of production and mailing. The inclusion of an additional amount as a donation to Ilisaqsivik Society’s Qimmivut program would be most welcome. Payment can be sent by PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by e-transfer using the same email address. Don't forget to indicate how you want your inscription to read.