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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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Oral histories and first hand stories of traditional life with Inuit Dogs, accompanied by both archival photos and Inuit drawings, appeared in issue number 12, Spring 2000 of Tumivut (which means “traces of our footsteps”. It refers to the story of Atungaq who went around the world and left his footprints in the bedrock all around Nunavik), the cultural magazine of the Nunavik Inuit, published by the Avataq Cultural Institute. The Fan Hitch is indebted to Avataq for granting permission to reprint “Hunting with Dogs”.
Ivujivik 1953 Photo: R.P.André Chauvel, o.m.i.
from the Bélangé Inc. collection
Hunting with Dogs
Interviewed in 1977-1979 (INK 38)
I'm Johnny Cain from Tasiujaq. I was born near Kangirsuq I'm living in Tasiujaq now. I'm going to talk about things I know and the kind of life we led.
As a boy, I used to accompany my father when he went hunting by dogteam. I was taught traditional hunting skills […]
There were only igloos at the time I started being aware of things. I mention them for they should not be forgotten by our sons. It is very important to maintain the skills to build an igloo. People worry about their children every time they go out hunting, never knowing what might happen to them, because of ignorance. Besides, they travel only by snowmobile which breaks down so easily. Whereas we traveled by dogteam without getting into trouble. Young people also do not bother taking a snowknife along, when it should never be left behind by anyone traveling. It's worthwhile to bring any kind of knife, big or small. It could come in handy.
Traveling by dogteam was a challenge, and hunters would bring everything they might need in case of emergency, even when they planned to come back home the same day. People should especially remember to take a knife. It’s the only weapon that can also be used to build an igloo and an igloo is a necessity for shelter in winter. The igloo kept us from freezing to death many times […]
Each dog had its own harness. You could tell which harness belonged to which dog, even though they weren’t marked. You could tell at a glance by the traces.
My father taught me what dogs could do in a storm. Sometimes the storm would be so bad that you wouldn't even be able to see your dogs from the sled they were pulling. But when the dogs reached familiar territory we could just sit back and relax. They knew the way home without our assistance.
When dog food got scarce, we would give each dog an equal small piece. There were times when the dogs wouldn’t eat for days in a row and we would go on. It made you feel bad to see the dogs doing all the work without having had any food. The dogs could recognize places they had been a year or more earlier. They would recognize where their master had set a trap, where they had rested, and they would stop at exactly the same place.
When I was a little boy, my father used to talk about a lead dog he once had. That dog of his was very smart. When my father went to check his traps the dog would insist on going only to those traps where a fox had been caught. His second lead dog could do the same thing. They were equally smart and equally experienced, my father's dogs. They were also obedient. If a lead dog and a second lead dog were both well behaved, the trip usually went smoothly. However, if you had a lazy lead or second lead, you could expect problems. Some dogs simply couldn’t lead.
I used to own a bunch of dogs that could never pass another dogteam. They would always follow behind other dogteams. I have even seen dogs sleeping as they pulled, still going in the right direction. I preferred male lead dogs to female lead dogs. When a female lead dog got pregnant you couldn’t use it anymore. A male lead dog didn’t have that problem.
The dogs also helped my father and me find animals. They would point out animals we would otherwise fail to see. They would catch the scent of an animal, even from behind a hill. When the dogs caught the scent of prey, it got a bit scary driving. Even if they were exhausted, they would suddenly act as though they had never known fatigue, and race across the roughest ground towards their prey.
The dogs needed to eat seal fat once in a while. If they were fed on caribou meat for long they would start to weaken, even though their stomachs were full. When they had had enough food, they would also be very strong and alert.
When I was really young, and my father was out hunting animals to feed us, I would stay at home and keep my hands in my sleeves, I felt so hungry. Today, people complain of hunger when they have plenty to eat.
In spring, when my father started taking more trips, the dogs' paws would bleed and they would be unable to walk. They would need boots, which we made out of any kind of skin. Even though I am a man, I used to sew boots for dogs out of sealskin or some other material. Sometimes we made boots out of the previous year’s qajaq covering, or the legging of an old boot. Some dogs would start eating their boots during rest periods. Also, when a dog dropped its boot, the dog traveling behind it would pick it up and eat it. When that happened you would punish the dog by hitting it, but it would still do it because of hunger. They also chewed the sled lines. One time when I was traveling alone by dogteam, my dogs ate all the ropes. When one of the dogs had been misbehaving, you would sometimes punish it by giving it a smaller share of meat, and giving larger portions to those who behaved well.
Although not in print for ten years, Avataq hopes to relaunch Tumivut if financial support is received. However, Tumivut #12, Spring 2000, is available to purchase for $7.00 CAD plus shipping. To get your own copy, please contact:
Marketing manager / Publications Dept.
Institut culturel Avataq
4150, rue Sainte Catherine Ouest, bureau 360
Westmount, Québec H3Z 2Y5
514 989-9031 #250