The Fan Hitch Volume 13, Number 4, September 2011

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

Editorial: We’ve Moved!

Historic Ceremony in Kangiqsualujjuaq

Passages: Heiko Wittenborn

In the News

Point of View: Veterinary Service in Nunavik

Chinook Project: Summer 2011 Report

Unikkausivut: Sharing Our Stories

Making a Mitten Harness

Media Review: Martha of the North (video)

IMHO: Historical Perspective or Hyperbole

Index: Volume 13, The Fan Hitch

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Index of back issues by volume number

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.

Resting dog, Pangnirtung, N.W.T.  January 1946
Credit: Bud Glunz/National Film Board of Canada.
 Photothèque/Library and Archives Canada

Historical Perspective or Hyperbole

by Sue Hamilton

I am still annoyed about it and it happened nearly five years ago! Being a consultant to the filmmaker for the documentary Dogs That Changed the World was not nearly as exciting for me compared to the fact that the Inuit Dog was one of the few "breeds" to be represented in this production, now recognized in the public limelight for its essential role in the survival of the Inuit for thousands of years. Thanks to a network of northern colleagues to work out the travel and filming logistics along with some cultural coaching, the film crew’s first time arctic experience resulted in a very successful "shoot" in Clyde River. This was not the only time I had worked with an independent film company and I should have tried to get more involved with the "overlay" of the multimedia organization which bought the raw footage for their own finishing touches. The dialogue was only a tad off kilter. But what I find irritating to this day is the massive disconnect between what was the point of the documentary and what appears still on the website where the Alaskan Malamute is listed as an "ancient breed". Now I really don't want to go another round of hammering the Alaskan Malamute (if 1935 can be considered "ancient") – been there, done that. But the lack of attention to historic accuracy is more than simply disappointing. I have a theory why this happened, but in a nutshell, this multimedia conglomerate was not concerned about historical accuracy, instead opting to go with what was most familiar to the pet owning public, in other words, a format that sells! Just as the detractors have unflatteringly described a well-known author (with sincere apologies to my many Canadian friends), this company was not about to ‘let the truth stand in the way of a good story.’

This is nothing new. It happened in the aftermath of my first involvement as on-locale director of a six-part documentary on dogs. I got along great with the film crew and that company's owner. We worked very well together. But the media group who contracted the assignment turned a good portion of what was developing as a serious, biologically correct film plan into a feely-touchy-sappy end product. Even the film company's owner threw up his hands in disgust and quit the project.

You see the same sort of nonsense in classified ads for dogs. Golden Retrievers are always described as "great with kids", labradoodles (high-priced, designer mutts) are "hypoallergenic", poodles don't shed and German Shepherds are all "big-boned" and from German lines. These overstatements really get to me. Breeder/owners love to talk up their dogs. They all have the biggest, the best and most prestigious lines, the rarest, the most titled, the most endangered…whatever. If you can't dazzle ‘em with your brilliance, then baffle ‘em with your b.s. But I am convinced that their hyperbole has little to do with their dogs and everything to do with attention-getting for themselves. To scramble a famous quote from the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what you can do for your dog, but what your dog can do for you."

Greenland Dog owners in Europe seeking to be competitive in sled dog races were insistent that blue eyes (known to exist in the speedy Siberian Husky) in their dogs were normal and acceptable. Canadian Eskimo Dog breeders tried conning a gullible Canadian media and the public into thinking that it was the Canadian Kennel Club's (CKC) version that was in dire need of government intervention to save. They deliberately confused the 20,000 dogs estimated to be living in the Arctic in the mid-20th century with the "plummeting" 300 or so CKC registered dogs remaining in the back yards of dog show and pet homes or languishing elsewhere. Comparing apples to oranges. And even more egregious, instead of being elated at the news that some Nunavimiut (residents of Nunavik/Arctic Quebec) were undertaking projects to restore the traditional/authentic Inuit Dog to a land from where it had been extirpated nearly a half century ago, this "darker side" was busy trying to convince these northerners that the only true, pure, legitimate, blah, blah, blah dogs were not to be found anywhere above the treeline (oh, nooooooo, they considered all of those to be mongrels), but existing as CKC registered/papered only in their kennels…and that will be $1200+ each, thank you very much! Never mind that these self-declared saviors of their breed have no concept of what it means to be a primitive aboriginal landrace. Hell, these people were trying to convince Nunavimiut that the only pure dogs were ones with tattoos inside their lips!

I guess what it boils down to for me is that for some folks this rush to "save" the…pardon me…"Eskimo Dog" has become a circus performance whose focus has turned towards themselves and not where I think it ought to be: the dog. And with that in mind I am especially thankful for the work that Igloolik Isuma, Piksuk Media and the National Film Board of Canada have done and are doing.'s focus is on their online film collection, including their award-winning trilogy Atanarjuat, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Before Tomorrow, and is also working to make their offerings accessible even to those remotest of aboriginal communities with less than high speed internet service. Piksuk Media as well has given us many fine films about Inuit people and culture, including Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths which examines both sides of a very painful era. And as part of their developing website and with the help of Clyde River's Ilisaqsivik Society, Piksuk is building an impressive knowledge base about the use of Inuit Dogs. The National Film Board of Canada has undertaken a project, Unikkausivut – Sharing Our Stories, to present their massive film collection of Inuit history and culture to the world, which will eventually be accessible online. I see the work of these three separate resources focusing not what they can do for themselves, but what they can do for others; and in this process, from my focused point of view, what they have done and are doing for a better understanding of the Inuit Dog's past, present and future.
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