From the Editor: Romancing the Bone –
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An Examination of Traditional Knowledge:
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CAAT Returns to Baker Lake
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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: https://thefanhitch.org.
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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.
Photo: Courtesy of Nunavut Tourism
Some Things Never Change
by Mark Hamilton
The shift from winter into spring here results in a fair amount of extra work for us. Switching between the equipment we use during the winter and the equipment required for spring is one of the sources of some of that work. Winter equipment has to be prepared for storage over the next six months and the spring/summer equipment has to be serviced before being put into use after having been stored for the last six months. There are a number of other recurring, time sensitive activities we need to accomplish each spring as well. Only a very few of them can be completed in a single day. Most are lengthy processes that need to be finished by a date certain. But even once these are all done, we still have our routine chores and a projects list to work on.
We made good progress with this year's spring-related chores and cleared them from our schedule much earlier than usual. We're now back to just doing our regular chores plus tackling the items on our projects list. If heat and humidity don't drive us to seek shelter indoors for a couple more months, we should be able to complete a number of the projects on our list.
Still, reality is that even when we finish all the projects on our current list, we won't be done. There's always something else to accomplish. Our list of potential projects is, as measured against human life expectancy, infinite. It's the number of things that need doing added to the number of things that we can think of and want to do. Literally, the more we do, the more there is that needs doing. Next year's spring chores will be more involved than this year's were because of the projects we did this year. We will be completing still more projects next year… and so the pattern continues. It is the way of things here. It's a pattern that never changes.
Having and working with the dogs is like this as well. Caring for them is a year-round proposition. It's what we do, and that never changes. Training is part of that year-round undertaking. We don't train in harness all year but there is always something we're training our dogs to do, even if it is something as basic as waiting when we say, “Wait!” People with working dogs generally spend more time with their dogs than the average pet owner does with theirs, and much of that extra time is involved in doing training. That's is also just the way of it, another one of those things that never changes.
Once we get the dogs back in harness, our first order of business will be to do refresher training. We start with the absolute basics - how we expect them to behave on the picket line and when harnessed to a sled. We proceed from there when we're satisfied they still understand our expectations. As with all training, we periodically go back and prove to ourselves that the dogs understand what we've taught them by testing various commands under different circumstances. This is yet another thing that never changes.
Right now, I would characterize the ISD's prospects for survival as "threatened." That's not based so much on their absolute numbers as it is based on the fact that their continued existence requires that they "have a place" in the Arctic. The definition of "have a place" is the problem because not only do the dogs have to be living in the Arctic, they also need to be used as working dogs in every day life. Life is already hard in the Arctic and choosing to live a more traditional lifestyle by primarily using dogs instead of a snowmobile requires a very serious commitment on the musher's part. This is a reality that won't be changing.
There also needs to be enough mushers in each village to maintain genetic diversity in that community's sled dog population during periods when there are no visiting dog teams available to introduce new genetic material. In arctic Canada that is a problem just now due to the both number of mushers and the number of dogs.
The two big races, activities organized to celebrate traditional dog team travel, held in arctic Canada do help to bring mushers from many communities together, so some gene sharing is taking place. And these events add an additional positive element in terms of generating interest in using dog teams among young people. Getting young people involved is critical, for without their participation the dogs and the culture of mushing will die with the current generation. That is another reality that never changes.
There will never be a single point in time or a particular occasion where people will be able to look back at and say, 'There, that was the defining moment that saved the Inuit Dog." This is because we are all working on something that is a process, not a project. There is no end to a process, you simply work to continue it. All that can done is to keep things moving forward, do what can be done and pass the dogs and traditions of mushing forward to the next generation. And that, too, is something that never changes.