Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Merv Ehrich
Jubilee Medal Awarded to ISDI Co-Founder
Blue Eyes in Norwegian Greenland Dogs
ISD Enthusiasts Speak out on Blues Eyes
ISDI's Official Stand on Blue Eyes
Mountie, Alouette and Moose
Following Nanuk's Tracks
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 1
New ISDI Scandinavia Web Site
Dog Teams in Iqaluit
ISDs in Museum Exhibit
Poem: Lost Travellers
Book Review: first Nations.... first Dogs
ISD Enthusiast's First Novel Published
IMHO: Seeking to Answer the Wrong Question
first NATIONS… first DOGS
by Bryan D. Cummins
reviewed by Janice Dougherty and Sue Hamilton
S.H.: Well, Janice, I am feeling more than a bit guilty having asked for and received from the publisher a review copy of this book based on your enthusiasm for it. What was it again you liked so much about it?
J.D.: I like the fact that the author "did his homework" and went back to some of the original sources of the first observations of the indigenous dogs in Canada. If a person was just beginning to do their own research, they could use his bibliography as a starting point and know where to go for old photos, archives, etc. Regarding ISDs, he used information from both Carpenter and MacRury, as well as photos from Montcombroux. He put the ISD in context with other populations of dogs living with different human groups, and included contrasting and admittedly tainted opinions as to the relationship of dogs to people across Canada. There are some people who do not think about all the different dog-using peoples that existed here in North America prior to contact with Russian traders, European explorers and missionaries. He includes archeological information and clarifies the difference between dogs of agricultural people versus those of hunter-gatherers. There are reproductions of sketches and paintings that point up the total lack of direct contact with original peoples and relied on verbal descriptions by non-dog-knowledgeable persons. Also, anyone can see how pervasive was the influence of non-native dogs on the canine population for a very long time - well before the Klondike Gold Rush. He also debunks the idea of the Newfoundland as being representative of a type of native North American dog. It bugs me when breed clubs perpetuate obvious errors.
S.H.: I got stuck three pages before the first chapter, where he writes "It is regrettable that many of the breeds, indeed, virtually all of the truly native breeds, have been rendered extinct through contact…. The Canadian Eskimo Dog, or Kimmiq (Qimmiq), seemed destined for the same fate and only barely escaped oblivion." Isn't the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog a truly native (the author is a Canadian and the book is published in Canada) breed? If it is, then in one sentence he says it is extinct and then he says it isn't. In fact, on page 13, Cummins does say "Canada has only one indigenous breed left… the Kimmiq…"
J.D.: Not to be an apologist for Mr. Cummins, but as far as the CKC is concerned, the last registered, documented "Eskimo" dog was too old to reproduce. That is part of what inspired Carpenter and Co. to go find additional specimens, right?
S.H.: And why is the name Canadian Inuit Dog absent from his lexicon (until page 116, after the chapter on the Arctic and included in the chapter on the Eastern sub-Arctic)? Isn't this a book about aboriginal dogs of aboriginal peoples? The Canadian "Eskimo" Dog is the Canadian Kennel Club's designation. That Cummins uses that name seems to say that he has disregarded the presence of the pure breed that exists in the Canadian high Arctic and elsewhere.
J.D.: I guess I am just not that sensitive about the use of Qimmiq/ISD versus CED. I don't get an impression of disrespect. I have long since passed the point where I have to agree with every detail of a book to find it valuable. I don't expect to agree totally with anyone.
S.H.: On page 83, Cummins seems to have drawn one of his own conclusions when comparing the Alaskan Malamute to the Siberian Husky and then, fitting in the "Kimmiq" onto his scale, he says, "The malamute is thus the heavy draught dog, ideal for moving heavy loads long distances…Between the these two extremes is the Kimmiq…neither as fast as the Chukchi nor as powerful as the Malamute, the Kimmiq is the perfect compromise between speed and power." Cummins seems to think that the AKC/CKC dogs whose purpose has been largely bred out of them (a fact that seems to be totally lost to him) can still be used as a yardstick of performance as compared to the true working aboriginal freighting dog of arctic Canada (and Greenland). Where did he hear the fairy tale that today's Inuit dog is less powerful and capable as a traditional freighting dog than today's Malamute? You can't begin to compare a dog bred for the show ring and pet trade to one bred based on performance. He swallowed someone's cock and bull story - hook, line and sinker!
J.D.: Yes, this is an obvious lack of logical analysis, and I agree that he bought into someone's distorted ideas about Alaskan Malamutes. This is glaring but I wouldn't disregard the whole book because of it.
S.H.: On page 21 he does allude to the deleterious effects of breeding for the show ring/pet trade. Yet he goes on to include quotes from the Canadian Eskimo Dog Association of Canada (CEDA), who not only stresses conformation competition but has repeatedly stated that the breed is a great family dog and good with children. Taking CEDA's figures on the number of registered dogs and breeders, he ignores the aboriginal population of dogs and their breeders. Yet he does quote John McGrath from a presentation he gave in Massachusetts, "The future of the [Kimmiq] is not in the dog show world with dogs on a leash instead of a sealskin or webbing harness…"
J.D.: This is part of what I liked about the book. He presents contrasting opinions on each group, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions. In more than one place, he clarifies the not so hidden agendas of the missionaries and their reactions to cultures different from their own. Nor does he glorify the native populations' treatment of their dogs as faultless.
S.H.: The author's style in first NATIONS... first DOGS is in each section to go into detail about the various First Nations peoples, their history, existence and then go back and place the dogs in the people's daily life. While I do agree that it's important for the reader to understand the context in which dogs existed in their environment, sometimes I grew impatient with the author, waiting for him to get to the point of the book - the dogs and the people who owned them. Cummins' style was to quote others (archaeologists, arctic explorers, missionaries, etc.) and then either fault their observations or explain why they might be correct. He less often seemed to draw his own conclusions. And when he did, I often disagreed.
J.D.: When a book provokes thought, analysis and clarifies one's own opinion, it has done its work, IMO.
S.H.: One of this book's most egregious faults is its heavy reliance on non-aboriginal sources of information. Yes, I am grateful that he included information from Ken MacRury's master's thesis (The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History, June 1991), as well as the writings of Bill Carpenter, John McGrath and even some old Coppinger stuff. But looking through the book's extensive bibliography, I cannot identify where Cummins included any aboriginal writing or that he spoke with any elders on issues of dog ownership and use by First Nations or Inuit. Instead, he relied on, as you say, "verbal descriptions by non-dog-knowledgeable persons". I don't think Cummins spent any time at all in the bush in preparing for this book.
J.D.: Well, I don't think you have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, to write a respectable overview on the topic of dogs of the original North American populations. Nor should you have to live there for thirty years before having an opinion. The Inuit have, for better or worse, had contact with other peoples for, say 500 years. Neither those who have gone on to higher education nor those who have dedicated themselves to the preservation and perpetuation of their culture have had the time or inclination to write or communicate on a permanent basis any disagreement with, critique of, or make statements about their culture's relationship with its dogs. Whatever their judgment on the matter, they have not been forthcoming. Whether it is from modesty, or a preference for harmony rather than disagreement or lack of concern, there is scant information to go on. When anyone wants to know about the original sled dogs and hunting dogs used by North American peoples prior to contamination by European breeds, they must go to these sources that Cummins used, and putting them in context, considering the sources, come to their own conclusions. But it is fodder for thought.
S.H.: I was eager to get my hands on this book and then massively disappointed. Not only was I keen to learn what Cummins had included on the Inuit Dog, I was equally anticipating learning more about the dogs of First Nations people and how they compared to the Inuit and their dogs. Unfortunately my lack of faith in much of Cummins’ early writing, especially page 83, made me not want to bother with the rest of the book, mainly because I felt I couldn't rely on what he said.
J.D.: Well, that's my point. He gathered lots of information and I read it, processed it, and put it in my own data bank, so to speak, each piece earmarked (color coded) in my own way. It's like collecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. What was it that Attila the Hun said? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You cannot answer one opinion with your own unless you have already thought it out and have a solid reason for your disagreement. Also, not all truths are palatable.
S.H.: And for me, neither was first Nations… first Dogs by Bryan D. Cummins, 2002, 350 pp., b&w photos & illus., softcover. Detselig Enterprises Ltd., Publisher. ISBN 1-55059-227-0. $39.95Cdn. Available from the publisher: 1-403-283-0900 phone or online at www.temerondetselig.com.