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Canadian/Greenland Inuit dogs and the “domestication syndrome”
Ptarmigan Hunting with Greenland Dogs
Documentary Film on the Sirius Patrol
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Photo: Pierre Dunnigan/Makivik
a new documentary to be released this fall
Okpik’s Dream is a new documentary film from Catbird Films, due out this Fall, about the compelling life story of the remarkable and inspiring Harry Okpik, a champion Inuit Sled Dog musher and amputee from Nunavik who has lived through incredible changes that have affected Inuit in just one generation.
Written and directed by Laura Rietveld, Okpik’s Dream is the story of sixty-year-old Harry Sam Willy Okpik who lives in the remote Inuit community of Quaqtaq, Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) and his lifelong determination to rebuild his identity and live his life with a sense of purpose.
Becoming a dog musher was his childhood dream. But in the early 1960s, when government agents shot the dogs of Quaqtaq, eleven-year-old Harry Okpik saw the sky and snow turn red and thought his dream was forever destroyed. Twelve years later, after the trauma of residential school, another personal tragedy, a hunting accident, resulted in years of intense hospitalization and estrangement from his community.
After spending three years in a Montreal hospital with doctors trying to save his injured leg Okpik made a harrowing decision – one he believed would forever rob him of becoming a real man, a father, a true Inuk. Yet he chose to have his leg amputated so he could ultimately begin his recovery and finally return home to the North.
The feature-length documentary, Okpik's Dream takes the viewer into the modern Inuit world. Shot over the course of several years, the film follows Harry as he recounts the momentous events of his life and cares for his magnificent husky dogs in preparation for the Ivakkak, a gruelling 600 km Inuit Dog sled race across Nunavik’s arctic landscape.
Harry Okpik during Ivakkak 2014 Photo: Katarina Soukup
“I first met Harry Okpik over five years ago on a blindingly sunny, -30C degree day in Quaqtaq,” states director Laura Rietveld. “I was visiting my aunt, a teacher, who arranged for us to go dogsledding with Harry. Out on the land that day, Harry spoke of his passion for dogsledding, the Ivakkak race and about the near-fatal hunting accident that cost him his leg. He also described the day his father’s dogs, the dogs he cared for as a boy, were killed by government agents. What became known as the Dog Slaughter would kill thousands of Inuit huskies across the Canadian Arctic in the 1950s and 60s, nearly eradicating the breed. As a Canadian, I was shocked and embarrassed that I had not heard of this event before.”
When Rietveld brought her the project over two years ago, producer Katarina Soukup, who has worked previously with Inuit filmmakers Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, Kiviaq versus Canada) and Jobie Weetaluktuk (Umiaq Skin Boat, Kakalakkuvik Where The Children Dwell), knew immediately that Harry was someone special. Soukup reflected,
“He has learned something about overcoming adversity that deserves to be shared with audiences around the North and across the planet. As a dog lover, I’ve been deeply touched by the love and care Harry has for his Inuit huskies – a dog breed once on the brink of extinction, but which is being brought back through the painstaking efforts of mushers like Harry and others."Okpik’s Dream hopes to be screened this fall or early winter at various film festivals, and later broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Nunavut Independent Television Network.
But before that can happen the filmmakers have launched a “crowd-funding” campaign on Indiegogo to help them raise the necessary funds to complete the documentary. Thanks to a number of Northern partners, the filmmakers are able to offer an array of wonderful “perks” for contributions, including How to Raise a Dog Team, the beautifully illustrated guide by Nunavik’s Adamie Inukpuk published by Avataq Cultural Institute, and limited edition prints of photographs by the Ivakkak Race’s official photographer, Pierre Dunnigan.
Harry's qamutik was raised in the air at the end of Ivakkak 2014, as
a sign of joy and respect for the huge accomplishment of completing
the race. Photo: Katarina Soukup
To contribute to the project, follow its progrss or to get more information please visit the film’s website.