The Fan Hitch PostScript
Number 3, posted
May 2019
In this Post

From the Editor: A Cautionary Tale

Media Review: How to Tame a Fox:
(and Build a Dog)

The Qimuksiq Network’s Iqaluit Meeting
Qimmeerukkaluarpat: When the Dogs are Gone

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum: Dogs at Work in the North

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Photographer Frederik Teglhus



When the Dogs are Gone

Qimmeerukkaluarpat: When the Dogs are Gone  is a series of five videos produced by the Natural History Museum of Denmark as a part of QIMMEQ, a research project launched in 2016 to study the genetic origins of Greenland Sled Dog and the social culture associated with their centuries of use. The films are seven and-a-half to nine minutes each, in Greenlandic with English subtitles.

Greenlander Ono Fleischer who, in 1992 travelled from west Greenland to Barrow, Alaska, reflects on his journeys to meet his Canadian and Alaskan kinsmen. He describes what his dogs meant to him and what they meant to his ancestors. He looks to a hopeful future of these special working dogs in the care of Greenland’s youth.
Johanne Bech says life is harder for team owners now that their dogs no longer can live in town. They must be kept out of town so people who have full time jobs can get their sleep without being disturbed by the dogs’ howling. A tour guide and hunter, Bech quit her job as a hairdresser in 2010 so she could work full time with her dog team. “When I go dogsledding it brings me closer to my ancestors. It is a wonderful feeling you want to pass on to others.”

In 1970 Alfred Olsen of Sisimiut was the first Greenlander to join the Sirius Patrol. He and his buddy were sent on a dangerous mission. Caught in a blizzard for two days that blew away much of their equipment, they almost died while attempting to retrieve the body of a radio technician whose snow machine went through the ice. Today Olsen fears for those who travel by snow machine. “With a snowmobile, you can’t feel the weak ice.” Olsen laments that Greenland Dogs are being used less and less. He is opposed to moving dog teams away from their owners in the community because it prevents effective socialization. He expresses a sense of urgency to stop their disappearance. “I can’t believe that the sled dogs will disappear completely. For if they do, we’ll lose Greenland’s identity.”

Martin Madsen of Ittaaimmiit is from a family of hunters. He got his first dogs when he was just three years-old. Growing up, he spent much time learning everything about hunting from his grandfather. Madsen  says, “The dogs are the  best tools when you go hunting…because a hunter cannot be a hunter without his dogs.” He laments the rapidly declining dog population which once outnumbered humans two-to-one. Madsen decided to become a hunter because he didn’t finish school, didn’t have an education. Yet from his grandfather (as well as his dogs), that education was so successful that in 2016 he was nominated by associations of other hunters for being a pioneer in his field.

Sled dog racing is very popular in Greenland and it is the focus of this fifth video. The nearly nine-minute film is narrated in part by Ilulissat born and raised Elder Ville Siegstad who can be seen in front of his wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves of large trophies he won competing in 104 Greenland National dog sled races (he won fifty of them). The other narrator is twelve year-old Ilulissat resident Nick Kristensen who makes it obvious how much he enjoys the competition and the attention he receives, “My friends think it is cool that I race and they cheer for me….I feel the excitement and rush, when I sit  on my sled at the startline.” 

There are plenty of scenes of dogs in harness, along with brief and puzzling flashes of a slot machine, joggers, a youth watching soccer on TV, more trophies and a Wolf Original from Canada, a non-Inuit made, plaster cast, phony “soapstone carving” of a sled dog team, which seems totally out of place in a land rich with authentic talented carvers.

Although the races are seen as a way to encourage youth to own dog teams, the concern I draw from having watched Sukkaniunneq / The Race several times is that Elder Siegstad’s hope to “…support children who want to drive sled dogs…to ensure that the sled dog population will not decrease more, ” could change much of Greenland’s sled dogs away from their working heritage into something ostentiably recognizable more as a population of racing dogs. The only comment which offered a glimmer of hope was from the young racing enthusiast himself, Nick Kristensen, who, after saying, “I dream of competing in many more races in the future,” adds, “…and one day explore my country from a dog sled.” Perhaps this youngster will also have mentors like the ones seen in the first four videos who can influence him to engage in traditional uses of the Greenland Dog and focus a breeding program based on those activities.

Qimmeerukkaluarpat, When the Dogs are Gone,  a collaboration of Ilisimatusarfik (The University of Greenland), The Natural History Museum of Denmark and QIMMEQ, The Greenland Sled Dog. It is available to watch for free on the Natural History Museum of Denmark website.

PINIARTOQ / THE HUNTER and SUKKANIUNNEQ / THE RACE  were official selections of the 2019 International Wildlife Film Festival, April 13 to 19, 2019, Missoula, Montana  USA.