From the Editor: Romancing the Bone –
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Kevin Walton Memorial Lecture
QTC’s Community Consultation Tour
An Examination of Traditional Knowledge:
The Case of the Inuit Sled Dog, Part 3
OP Nunalivut 10
CAAT Returns to Baker Lake
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Qikiqtani Truth Commission
Update: May 2010
Community Consultation Tour
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission has recently returned to all Qikiqtani communities and to Ottawa as part of the community-consultations phase of the Commission's work.
The QTC Commissioner and the Executive Director undertook these visits to ensure that community members were given an opportunity to learn directly from the Commissioner about the QTC's work, preliminary conclusions and proposed recommendations. The visits also encouraged individuals to speak directly to the Commissioner and QTC staff. The format could be best described as a series of conversations, which is consistent with the Commission's desire to establish and foster a reconciliation process. The visits allowed individuals to hear more about what has been revealed from archival research about historic events and for the QTC to learn even more about the significance of these events in the lives of Baffin Region Inuit. More challenging conversations will take place when the QTC engages with agencies involved in the events, especially the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
In addition to sharing information, the Commissioner outlined his proposed broad recommendations in the areas of historical awareness, acknowledgement, healing, meaningful involvement, cross cultural training and better communication.
In preparation for the Commission's return to the communities, Public Service Announcements were developed and played on the local radio stations prior to QTC's arrival. Each PSA was approximately two minutes in length, covering one of the thirteen identified QTC issues, such as housing, health care, alcohol, dogs, etc. English and Inuktitut versions of each PSA were produced, and each features segments from QTC testimonies.
Almost 200 community members have participated in the fourteen Qikiqtani and Ottawa community consultations. Commissioner Igloliorte notes "people kept expressing their thanks for our return to their community. People really were very excited and interested about Commission's findings. We were also able to answer people's questions about why government did what they did, such as the relocations, promises of housing or shooting of sled dogs."
At the Ottawa session, a dozen Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) students attended, along with their coordinator, Morley Hanson. They were keen to have access to all the different aspects of the Commission's work, especially video testimonials. While some of the students were familiar with various issues covered by the QTC, others heard about the events for the first time. Hanson explained that while NS teaches Inuit and Nunavut history, it looks forward to using testimonials and Inuit-focused histories about the modern era.
Similarly at all the community visits, many found their own historical experiences validated, insomuch that other Inuit had recounted similar events and that written records substantiate Inuit memories. In a few cases, the Commission heard new testimony on issues1 never before shared, as communities became more familiar with the Commission's broad mandate or as the Commission had gained greater trust with communities.
Almost all participants spoke about the need for the Commission's work to be shared as widely as possible in many different media, whether at museums, websites or in curriculum-based materials for schools in all territories and provinces.
Most attendees believed that historical awareness about what happened to Inuit during this period of transition should naturally result in acknowledgment. Others hope that this will lead the Government of Canada to apologize to Inuit for specific harms or ideally for all wrongdoings. It was also suggested that forgiveness be included in the Commissioner's recommendations, since holding on to pain and hatred impedes the individual's healing process. Attendees also stressed the importance of forgiveness in the process of community reconciliation with the federal and territorial governments and Qallunaat.
Only a few participants have suggested or recommended compensation of a type similar to the compensation offered to residential school attendees. People felt that the residential school apology and processes incorrectly focused only on the children who attended school, rather than the government recognizing that the whole family was affected when a child was sent away. The majority expressed the belief that the focus should be on healing and healing programs, rather than on individual compensation.
Native child coming out of igloo, Frobisher Bay, [N.W.T.]. 1936
Credit: A.G. McKinnon /Canada. Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs /
Library and Archives Canada
As a result of the Commission's work, there is growing awareness of what happened to those who directly experienced the most traumatic events during this period, as well as a greater appreciation of links that can be made between historic events and current issues, such as poverty, poor nutrition, substance abuse, suicide and physical abuse. Participants in the consultations, as well as the testimonies themselves, provide more evidence that, in the past, people may have chosen not to disclose traumatic events to their children, so as to spare them from pain. This decision may have unintentionally harmed some children, however, because they could not understand their parents' behaviours and made unhealthy decisions themselves. Not to be forgotten, however, is the reality that many people found comfort and pride in learning about the efforts made by their parents and grandparents to overcome enormous challenges caused by government decisions and actions.
In the absence of information or explanations, then or now, it is fully understandable why some Inuit have made certain assumptions and, in some cases, misassumptions about why the federal government did what it did, such as the killing of dogs and the moving of families, especially in the context of what was also happening around the same time with respect to military installations, education, health care, housing and development.
Commissioner Igloliorte strongly believes that the past can provide many valuable lessons to help Government and Inuit today. "Government often developed policies with little or no Inuit involvement or consultation. Even though many policies were designed to better the lives of Inuit, whether through the provision of housing, education, health care and dog control, the lack of cultural understanding, poor communication and meaningful involvement exacerbated by lack of planning or sufficient resources resulted in many Inuit being harmed by the very policies that were developed to help them."
Therefore, there has been tremendous appreciation and value in the Commission being able to explain reasons behind government action or inaction. Specific topics of particular interest during the community visits have included: details about the evolution and application of the Dog Ordinance; the extent to which RCMP and others justified the killing of more than a thousand sled dogs by using and misusing the Ordinance; the various reasons or methods for Inuit moves and relocations into permanent communities; reasons behind the threats of losing family benefits if children did not attend school; transportation of Inuit patients to southern medical facilities; and the mindset in government officials at the time that various hunting restrictions were imposed. Equally important, the Commission has been able to substantiate most Inuit claims and grievances using governmental, HBC, church and private records.
As examples of historic events that were discussed during the community visits, it is worthwhile considering relocations and the killing of sled dogs. Wherever relocations took place, the Commission was generally able to provide some information about why Inuit were moved and relocated in the Qikiqtani region. One such example was in Arctic Bay. Here, the Commission was able to explain why, when and how Cape Dorset Inuit ended up in this community. These relocatees and their decedents have been wondering for two or more generations (70 years) why they were relocated to Devon Island and Creswell Bay, never returning to their original homeland.
Commissioner Igloliorte has observed throughout his consultations with Qikiqtani residents "despite these events being historical, clearly there are intergenerational impacts stemming from the past that continue to contribute to some problems today. Until these issues are resolved, which I believe is possible by being aware of our history, acknowledgment of what happened, offering of sincere apologies that go beyond words and local intergenerational healing programs – many people in our communities will continue to be caught up in harmful patterns."
A crucial and fundamental issue has been the examination of the facts from the various viewpoints and to understand cultural perspectives, positions, intentions and motivations. Through Inuit testimonies, for example, we have learned about the reasons why some people chose to move from the land to settlements, but we have also learned that many others felt pressure to move to a specific place because no other options were available. In the archival records, we can see very clearly the confusion within the bureaucracy about the best way to reconcile a desire to keep Inuit self-supporting and healthy through hunting with a desire to make the Baffin Region profitable through development.
There has been and will continue to be tremendous value coming from the Commission's work in bringing about greater understanding and awareness of what happened, whether to the individual directly affected, their spouse, their children, their grandchildren, federal and territorial government departments and agencies – including the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) and the RCMP – or to the country as a whole. There is much to be learnt from the past and why certain individuals or communities feel the way they do towards government, police and non- Inuit.
In reflecting on the efforts made by people to participate in the QTC, Commissioner Igloliorte noted that "Inuit are pragmatic people – they recognize the need for government and associated programs and benefits. In fact, several people expressed gratefulness for the help they have received from government. Nonetheless, many want government to be more aware of Inuit culture and recognize that all people, no matter what kind or level of education, have something to contribute in policy development that affects their lives."
1 Starvation and death in Belcher Islands in early 1950's; drugs and gambling in settlements; attending make shift schools in sanatoria; suffering of family members whose relatives were relocated away and joy felt when reconnecting, even if only by unplanned happenstance and/or assisted reunions; teachers failing to understand and accommodate the requirement for children to help with subsistence activities as a legitimate reason for not attending school and inappropriateness for punishing them for ‘truancy'; and the psychological and emotional harm inflicted on people who were told that if they didn't get an education they wouldn't be able to get a job or being taken advantage of by companies because they do not possess ‘certificates' even though they are capable of doing the work.
Editor's Note: According to QTC Executive Director Madeleine Redfern, the community consultation tour has delayed the completion of Commissioner Igloliorte's final report, previously expected May 2010. The QTC is now in the final stages of completing his report, in both Inuktitut and English. However, earlier in May in Resolute Bay, Nunavut Commissioner Igloliorte presented his summary of findings and proposed recommendations to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association Board of Directors. It is expected that the QTC will give QIA the final report by early this Fall.