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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at: http://thefanhitch.org.
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Taking the Long View
by Mark Hamilton
Taking the long view requires a concerted effort on our part these days. The pace of life for most people continues to accelerate and accordingly the long view doesn't fit easily into most people's lives. On the other hand, it wasn't that long ago that you wrote another person a letter on a piece of paper, mailed them a card or a package and called them on a phone with a rotary dial. I personally didn't notice the pace of life increase when telephones moved from rotary dials to push buttons, but now I think that's because I just wasn't paying attention.
In 1973 a former Yale student turned ideas he'd earlier outlined in a school term paper into FedEx, a company which realized that for some businesses and their customers the speed of delivery was more important than cost of delivery. In 1981 UPS abandoned its former method of air delivery - piggybacking on commercial flights - in favor of having its own fleet of aircraft. In the business world the seeds for an increase in the pace of life had been planted. Soon the general public's expectations of quick delivery inched forward as well and with our new expectations so did the pace of our own lives.
Communications started to change in significant ways around that time too. Fax machines began to replace telex machines. In retrospect that too was more significant that I thought at the time. While few private citizens had a telex machine sitting in their den at home, a fax machine was much more accessible and useful. Computing also began to evolve into a more accessible form with the advent of the personal computer. Later, when our personal computers were connected to the internet, in addition to working at home and keeping our records and writing, we also had the ability to 'go' somewhere else. Now cell phones have morphed into smart phones where the internet and its instant connection to any place else in the world travels with us in our pocket.
Given that reality, thinking about a project where progress is measured in terms of generations instead of nanoseconds is challenging. But that's exactly where we are relative to the Inuit Dog. We've spoken previously about how the only way the ISD will survive is if it can find a place in today's Arctic. The solution to that problem hinges on generations, specifically future generations, of Inuit. There are Inuit Dogs today and there are dog drivers today. For there to be dogs in the future, the knowledge and traditions of dog driving have to be passed on to future generations of Inuit. Youths need to be attracted to the dogs and dog driving. Creating that interest in the generations yet to come is the heart of the challenge.
I'm happy to say that I see some encouraging signs in this area. Both Ivakkak and the Nunavut Quest generate a lot of attention and interest among youth in Arctic Canada. At the same time, race entries often represent family efforts with race teams' support crews being made up of a multigenerational or extended family. We've also read reports of individual dog drivers stating that their motivation for undertaking the race was to encourage youths and to demonstrate to them what can be done.
The various projects by National Film Board of Canada, Piksuk Media and Isuma.TV chronicle a range of Inuit history, culture and current events. All these organizations then make those products widely and easily accessible. Documentaries, both historical and current events such as Piksuk's coverage of the 2010 Nunavut Quest underscore the connectedness between the Inuit and their dogs. Making this material available to young Inuit over regional television and the internet helps fuel interest in the dogs, dog driving and pride in their history.
The Qimmiit Utirtut project in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik is a local program involving the IPL students of the Ulluriaq School. The local population of Inuit Dogs has been reconstituted while at the same time the students get hands-on involvement in all aspects of dog care and training as well as exposure to the culture of dog driving.
I find in these developments reasons for me to be hopeful for the future of the Inuit Dog. Independent of each other, a variety of regional and local efforts are being made to preserve various elements of Inuit culture and involve young people in that process. The reality for the Inuit Dog is that without future generations of dog drivers, the traditional Inuit Dog cannot go on. A number of people, groups and organizations have recognized this challenge and have stepped forward. They and their efforts are to be applauded.