From the Editor: Working Dogs –
Reasoned Perception or Illogical Vision
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Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs:
the Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part I
The Gentrification of Working Breeds
Qimmiit Utirtut is Four Years-Old!
Sledge Dog Memorial Fund Update
Behavior Notebook: Curious Naturalist
Remembering a Stunning Achievement
Book Review: The Polar World: the Unique Vision of Sir Wally Herbert
IMHO: You, a Reader of The Fan Hitch
Navigating This Site
Ulluriaq School students and offspring of the Minnesota
Inuit Sled Dogs trudge up a hill. photo: Annie Kajuatsiak
Qimmiit Utirtut (The Dogs are Back): An Update!
by Mark Brazeau
March, 2009 marks the four-year anniversary of Qimmiit Utirtut. It seems like only yesterday when Daniel Annanack made the request to find stronger dogs for his team. Such a simple request has resulted in an exciting journey. So much has happened since 2005. A pessimistic person may be inclined to point out that in four years, Qimmiit Utirtut was unable to increase the total number of mushers in the community, and has therefore failed. An optimistic person, on the other hand, may point out that although Qimmiit Utirtut does not have people lining up to be mushers, it is holding steady and headed in the right direction. Consequently, it seems appropriate to reflect on and evaluate Qimmiit Utirtut – to highlight what the project has accomplished and where it is going.
One of the primary objectives of Qimmiit Utirtut is to reintroduce the Inuit Dog to Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik. Obtaining a variety of bloodlines was the first priority. The first three pups were donated in 2005 by Linda Frederickson of Minnesota. Since that time, dogs have also been acquired from Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Gatineau (Québec), Kuujjuaq (Nunavik) and Iqaluit (Nunavut). In total, seventeen different dogs from seven different bloodlines have been obtained. Those dogs and their offspring have become the new dog teams in Kangiqsualujjuaq. The overall quality of sled dogs in the community has improved immensely. And Daniel got his dogs!
Reviving traditional dog sledding has been a much tougher task. Life in Kangiqsualujjauq has changed significantly in a short period of time. The experience and values between the generations differ significantly. The older generation is very traditional. Older Inuit were nomadic even into the 1960s and relied on their dogs for transportation and survival. The younger generation, on the other hand, is very modern. They listen to digital music players, use computers to chat on the internet and of course, they drive snowmobiles. Asking the new generation of Inuit to trade in their snowmobiles for dog teams would be equivalent to asking southern people to trade in their cars for horse drawn carts. Traditional Inuit life depended on dogs for survival, but modern Inuit life makes owning a team of dogs somewhat of a burden. For the Inuit who work Monday to Friday, traveling by dog team is not practical because they want to get to the fishing and hunting areas as quickly as possible during their short two-day weekend. As a result, only those individuals with an extremely strong passion for traditional mushing are dedicated enough to raise a team of Inuit Sled Dogs. Unfortunately, there are only three of those individuals currently living in Kangiqsualujjuaq. As the old saying goes, however, quality is more important than quantity.
Daniel Annanack and students head out to the tent
at Old Woman's Lake. photo: Annie Kajuatsiak
There are high expectations for mushers linked to Qimmiit Utirtut. Owning a team of dogs that are never worked and only left staked out on chains is unacceptable. It is expected that the dogs will be worked hard and fed country food as often as possible. Mushers must be entirely committed to raising the dogs in a traditional manner. It is necessary to consult with Elders to learn traditional knowledge related to mushing and sled construction and, in turn, share that knowledge with the young people. Most importantly however, the mushers must expose the young people to traditional dog sledding. For the third consecutive year, every student in the Ulluriaq School will get a class excursion by dog team, an event that every student looks forward to with great anticipation.
There has been a new component added to Qimmiit Utirtut this year. It goes without saying that students enjoy mushing…a lot! When going out on training runs, mushers often had to limit the number of kids that came along because there were just too many. Deciding which students to take and which ones to leave behind was always an unpleasant task. After consulting with the student counselor at the school, it was decided to start a program which identifies at-risk students and gives them priority as assistant mushers. These at-risk students work closely with the student counselor and the musher to define expectations related to their behavior at school and in their personal lives. There is a focus on making healthy life choices and becoming a responsible member of the community. Becoming an assistant musher is a privilege that is earned by at-risk kids who are willing to improve themselves.
Another factor, which will favorably affect the revival project is the newly created Kuururjuaq National Park. The national park was formally created by the Québec government in 2008 and is expected to officially open in the next few years. The Inuit have traveled the Kuururjuaq Valley through the Torngat Mountains for thousands of years. The area is rich in history, wildlife and natural rugged beauty. It will become a tourist Mecca in the future. As stated earlier, the Inuit are practical people who have always done things out of necessity. Their survival depended on it. If modern day survival depends on making a personal income, there may be a renewed interest in becoming a musher for tourism purposes, and Qimmiit Utirtut will be there to help set a good example of high standards for the keeping and use of those dogs.
The Grade 5 students enjoyed their day with the dogs.
photo: Daniel Annanack
Consequently, the future looks bright for Qimmiit Utirtut! There are good quality Inuit Sled Dogs in the community. There are dedicated mushers who are working and raising the dogs in a traditional manner. The mushers are consulting with Elders in addition to promoting, sharing and teaching the young people. Moreover, with the creation of the new Kuururjuaq National Park, owning a team of dogs will become much more than a personal hobby, it will become a legitimate business opportunity. Like the Inuit Dog, Qimmiit Utirtut will continue to journey forward with strength and endurance, never relenting. New mushers will come one day. When they do, everything will be ready for them.