Editorial: Know the Dog, the Land and the People
Chinook Project Returns to Labrador
Canadian Animal Assistance Team Returns to Baker Lake
Ghosts of Dogs Past
A Conversation with
Charlotte DeWolff of Piksuk Media and
Jake Gearheard of the Ilisaqsivik Society
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Know the Dog, the Land and the People
The speedometer's needle on our little Honda Civic wagon was pegged at somewhere over 80 mph (129 kph) for a good portion of our three-day journey to The Pas, Manitoba, Canada. But we had a train to catch: the fabled Muskeag Express, a gentle 25 miles (40 km)-per-hour, clickity-clack overnight meander across the fragile taiga ending in Churchill, Manitoba.Wishing you smooth ice and narrow leads,
Breathless and bright-eyed, we arrived at the train station with a couple of hours to spare. When we told the man behind the ticket counter we were staying in Churchill for a whole week, he shot an incredulous look at us and grunted, "Most tourists come back in a few hours, on the train's evening return. What the heck do you plan on doing there for an entire week?" We had no response. Although we spent an enormous amount of time planning this adventure, we really weren't altogether sure what we would be doing for a whole week. All we were certain of is that we were determined to go to the infamous dump to see the polar bears, our only motivation for this, our first venture north inspired by a dreadful National Geographic polar bear documentary.
As naïve as we were back in 1982, we managed to stumble onto doing one thing right. We did stay in Churchill an entire week. After dropping off our duffle bags at the Beluga Motel we hustled to the Arctic Trading post where the day's trainload of tourists was welcomed to town with tea and bannock. Later all scurried around the community, ours a more relaxed pace than the others, to take in some of the sites. After a long and exhilarating day, the visitors hustled back onto the train while we returned to our room to make dinner in our little kitchenette and plan our visit to the dump.
The following morning we returned to town to walk around. In more ways than one, a new day had dawned. Not a "train day", the streets and sidewalks were no longer awash with visitors. But what was so very remarkable was that as we wandered about, people smiled at us, greeted us, stopped to chat with us! While train day tourists were warmly treated, we got the impression that because we chose not hustle out of town after a few hours, our continued presence seemed to result in residents treating us differently, as if they were willing to open up a little, to include us so we could experience the community beyond the obvious tourist venues. Because of our perceived interest in learning more, many residents were, in turn, interested in sharing more. This developing rapport was not lost on us. It was an "A-ha" moment, and one that guided all of our future visits to the North.
Sixteen years later, in the very first issue of The Fan Hitch I wrote in an article titled Know the Dog, the Land and its People, "One cannot know the Inuit Sled Dog without an understanding of its recent and ancient history, where it came from, under what conditions it evolved and the people responsible for making this the finest freighting sled dog in the world. For it is the "big picture" that give us a greater appreciation of this marvelous dog. To do any less would not only take the dog out of context, but also be a grave injustice, especially, to the Inuit people themselves." Now thirteen years after writing that and twenty-nine years after that first northern exposure in Churchill, those words still ring true. And in this issue of The Fan Hitch Jake Gearheard, Executive Director of the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River, Nunavut explains the far-reaching effects of the Inuit Dog on Inuit life and traditions. And he also looks forward to a day when people will come to his culturally rich community for more than just polar bear hunting, base-jumping off the region's cliffs or a dog sled ride. Jake's wish echoes our longstanding believe that Inuit Dogs and Inuit history, culture and traditions are intimately intertwined. And the former cannot be enjoyed and appreciated without taking the time to learn more about the latter. I hope you will be lucky enough to someday visit Clyde River or one of the other northern Canadian hamlets. Be sure your time in the community includes the bigger picture, the sum of all the parts, for there is far more to know about the Inuit Dog than what first meets the eye. You are sure to be richly rewarded by people who are eager to share their stories.