The Fan Hitch Volume 13, Number 1, December 2010

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog
In This Issue....

From the Editor: Living in the Moment

Breed, Landrace and  Purity:
what do they mean?

In the News

QTC Update: final report

Veterinary Service Plans for the Eastern Canadian Arctic

Piksuk Media Projects

CAAT Welcomed Back to Baker Lake

Join the Primitive Aboriginal Dog Society International

Media Review: People of the Seal, Part 2

IMHO: Relationships and Inclusion

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at:

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This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.
Media Review....
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.

Frozen fish, likely char, are split from nose
to tail.

Split fish, nose to tail and overlaping, laid out along one end of a soaked seal hide, are rolled up. Note: bare hands at minus 40F/C

The hide-wrapped fish are lashed and kept that way until thoroughly frozen.
The leather thongs are removed. Note the upturned (front) ends and how well both runners appear to be dimensionally matched.

Caribou antlers or leg bones serve as the cross-pieces holding runners in place. The runners need to be parallel and also at a slight angle to the ice for best tracking. Note: no fancy tools!
Long thin strips of bearded seal are used to lash everything together, pulling the line as tight as possible.

With the qamutiq upside, down a water-laden moss/mud matrix is piled on the bottom of the fish-core, seal hide runners.
After shaping the frozen moss-mud runner, melt-water is squirted onto a section polar bear fur from the mouth. Rubbed over the moss,  gaps are filled and an ice runner is formed. Damage to ice runners must be repaired immediately.

It is now a means of survival as long as temperatures remain below freezing and hungry dogs are kept away!
It is a marvel of ingenuity, built with a knife.

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.
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