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Media Review: People of the Seal, Part 2
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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog International, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at: http://thefanhitch.org.
Print subscriptions: in Canada $20.00, in USA $23.00, elsewhere $32.00 per year, postage included. All prices are in Canadian dollars. Make checks payable in Canadian dollars only to "Mark Brazeau", and send to Mark Brazeau, Box 151 Kangiqsualujjuaq QC J0M 1N0 Canada. (Back issues are also available. Contact Sue Hamilton.)
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The Inuit Sled Dog International
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.
People of the Seal, Part 2
an archival documentary film
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
The history of mushing did not begin with the Alaskan gold rush or during the Serum Run era, as some have described, any more than the history of the wheel began with the horse and buggy. All too often it seems that sled dog "historians" may (or may not) offer paltry lip service to or acknowledgement of Inuit contributions and ingenuity regarding the origin of dog powered transportation on snow.
The use of dogs for pulling begins with the creation of the device to which the dogs are attached. According to Ken MacRury's master's thesis, The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History, North American archaeologists found sled parts attributed to the Thule culture (ancestors of today's Inuit) dating back to 800 BP (Before Present: dating scale now used by archaeologists was established 1950 as the origin year for the BP scale. The year 1950 was chosen because it is the year in which calibration curves for radiocarbon dating were established. Wikipedia) And so, long before carbon fiber components and quick-change runners common to today's world of sled dog racing, the ancestors of today's circumpolar Inuit built their qamutiit (sleds) out of animal parts.
Fortunately the fabrication of this ingenious design has been recorded for posterity and is available from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The NFB has a massive collection of documentaries about the Netsilik Inuit, also referred to as the "People of the Seal", and there's one in particular (actually it is the second of a two-part series, filmed in 1965) that meticulously recorded the creation of a qamutiq, made entirely of materials harvested from land and sea. The Fan Hitch is enormously grateful to the NFB for granting us permission to publish screen captures from this documentary so readers can see the steps involved in the process.
In reviewing these steps and the raw materials used, it is good to keep in mind that the harvesting of these animals and the processing of their parts and the climate in which this was all done represented significant challenges! Such had been the way of life of these traditional hunter-gatherers and it is easy to imaging how Inuit Dogs played a vital role in the cycle of travel and survival which is well described in this fifty-one-minute award-winning documentary. Also included are scenes of dogs being used to sniff out aglu (seal breathing holes); dog team travel; igloo building; work and play, singing and drumming at the winter camp; different seal hunting and butchering techniques.
People of the Seal, Part 2: Eskimo Winter is available in Canada as a DVD for $19.95 CAD plus shipping. For availability in other countries, please call 1-800-267-7710 or 1-514-283-9000 (Montreal, Canada) or write: National Film Board of Canada, Sales and Customer Service, D-10 PO Box 6100, Station Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3H5, Canada. You may email your inquiry by using the form on the NFB's "contact us" page.