From the Editor: An Outsider's Perceptions
The Gaze of Animal Life
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Conducting Dog Feeding Trials on the Antarctic Huskies:
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Further Experiments on the nutrition of sledge dogs
How Use of the name Inuit became official
An Examination of Traditional Knowledge:
the case of the Inuit Sled Dog, part 4
Chinook Project visits Northern Labrador
Media Review: Qimmit - A Clash of Two Truths
IMHO: In Transition
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The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) is a consortium of enthusiasts whose goal is the preservation of this ancient arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog. The ISDI's efforts are concentrated on restoring the pure Inuit Dog to its native habitat. The ISDI's coordinators welcome to your comments and questions.
Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
The film more than lives up to its title. Viewers witness a clash of perceptions, understandings, interpretations…a clash of cultures. The subject of Qimmit: A Clash of Two Cultures is the issue of what has come to be identified as "the dog slaughters of the 1950s to 1970s". Much of the film follows the Qikiqtani Truth Commission as it flew from community to community in Nunavut taking testimony, mostly first hand accounts, from Inuit Elders or their families whose dogs were shot. There are other scenes where an Elder is interviewed by his granddaughter who seeks to learn why there is so much sadness to this day about what happened a half century ago. Others, including Piksuk co-owner and the film's co-director Joelie Sanguya, himself a traditional dog team owner, are seen interviewing northern Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) retirees and other government officials as well as long standing non-Inuit northern residents.
What the aptly named documentary projects is that the subject matter is very complicated in addition to being highly emotional. Inuit had survived in the North, to a large extent thanks to their dogs, for thousands of years, having overcome Mother Nature's challenges. But the invasion of a different culture, which began hundreds of years before this examined time period, was to change that relationship with the land. The mid-twentieth century seemed to be a turning point when a nexus of situations appeared to take its toll on traditional aboriginal life: post war construction of the Distant Early Warning system (better known as the DEW Line) and communities built up around it which needed to be occupied; a period of poor hunting and starvation depicted by famous Canadian photographers such as Richard Harrington and Douglas Wilkinson that were shown to the people of Canada's southern provinces (not part of the film but documented elsewhere); epidemics of dog distemper; the arrival of the Bombardier, the first snowmachine; and residential school education of Inuit children as a means of assimilation into "modern Canadian society".
Publications such as The Inuit Way were not available at that time to help enlighten outsiders' misperceptions about Inuit culture. What these qallunaat observed surely did not translate into a meaningful understanding of Inuit life. "Their language is so primitive we can't communicate with them," one frustrated white admitted. Inuit, who had always been fearful of authority, especially the police, failed to understand what was being "explained" to them. So fearful were they of white authority that when certain Inuit were given rifles and ammunition and ordered to shoot dogs, they did just that, as Inuit interviewees who took part in or witnessed the shootings described.
Most of the Inuit who lived through that period expressed profound sorrow, their anguish still clearly evident. After describing the important role dogs played in his life and then the shooting of his dogs, one Inuk said, "It was like my father or brother being killed." Another who relied on his team to hunt for food said, "We were already poor…When we lost our dogs we were destitute."
Some RCMP retirees having served in the North during that era felt it was unfair that they were collectively described as all guilty, while others tacitly denied that mass killings ever took place. Much was made of dogs needing to be tied up. In outpost camps it was traditional practice for dogs to roam. Once there was a movement into settlements, which some RCMP said they tried to discourage while other government officials sought to accomplish, loose dogs became "an issue" for the non-Inuit of these communities. The authorities told Inuit to tie up their dogs. Many Inuit didn't understand the language or the reasoning and others who tried to obey either couldn't afford the chains or their community's Hudson’s Bay store didn't have any to sell.
But, as the film goes on, the killings went beyond the matter of loose dogs in settlements. Some Inuit described dogs being shot while still in harness, their owners in a building getting supplies. Another interviewee described officials flying in to her family's outpost camp and shooting dogs. This, too, was fiercely denied. One long time non-aboriginal northern resident insisted that the only slaughter he knew about happened when his Newfoundland dog, let out to relieve himself, was enticed into a passing police car, taken to the dump and shot.
Towards the end of the film hope is expressed that the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's two-year long investigation will ultimately result in a healing process that Inuit have long sought.
In a scene from the movie, retired judge James Igloliorte,
Chief Commissioner of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission,
interviews Elder Johna Apak. Sadly Apak passed away Spring 2010.
Peter Iqalukjuak, © National Film Board of Canada
In addition to scenes of present day traditional mushing and dog feeding activities, this sixty-eight-minute documentary includes many archival video clips and still images as well as recreated dramatizations, some of which viewers may find disturbing, as is warned at the very beginning of the film, despite assurances that no dogs were killed, hurt or mistreated in the creation of this work.
Anyone and everyone interested in the killing of Inuit Sled Dogs during the 1950s-1970s ought to see this film as part of the body of information that has been and is still being produced on the subject.
Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths (2010) is a joint production of Piksuk Media and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) The film will be available within Canada by the end of September. Availability dates in other parts of the world are yet to be determined. For more information contact NFB in one of the following ways:
National Film Board of Canada
3155 Cote de Liesse St.
Laurent, QC H4N 2N4
While waiting for the DVD to be released, enjoy brief clips of Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths by visiting the NFB website; search word "Qimmit".
Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths has been submitted for competition to a number of fall film festivals.