Editorial: Old Tools – New Tools
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Old Tools – New Tools
"An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure."
Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790
Farmer, printer, inventor, scientist, author;
Civic activist, politician, statesman, diplomat;
Founding Father of the United States of America
Inuit have been in partnership with their dogs for thousands of years. They needed each other to survive. Hand to jaw (and powerful paws) combat with polar bears was made safer and more successful thanks in large part to the dogs. Just getting close enough and quickly enough to engage in such a deadly confrontation could be attributed to the efforts of the four legged members of this alliance. Perhaps qimmiq could be considered a (living) tool used to hunt prey.
Before the use of rifles, Inuit did not keep many dogs. It was just too "costly" to feed a big team in addition to the hunters and their families. Economy of scale. But that changed as a result of contact with the outside world.
Qallunaat (people from the outside) introduced enormous changes and challenges, many considered damaging. But Inuit determined some "imports" as useful, and among those were firearms. Rifles changed the face of hunting and survival. The acquisition of food and the raw materials for everyday living became easier, quicker, somewhat less strenuous, safer and even more successful. Still the principle means of getting from point A to point B, Inuit Dogs benefitted as well. A hunter using a rifle to harvest game could now afford to keep more dogs to pull his heavy loads. The dogs could be better fed, stay stronger and grow into their genetic potential.
The inevitable transition of extended family groups of a hunting society sprawled out across the vast Canadian Arctic to population dense community living and the exposure to foreign ways and laws created more enormous social challenges and some opportunities. As in the past, Inuit have sought to embrace what non-indigenous introductions could be found to their liking/advantage while at the same time struggling to hold on to the very foundations of a culture rich in traditions. Inuit have often been described as "having one foot planted in each of two worlds". It is an oversimplification of extremely complicated issues. If Inuit feel caught between two worlds, I see that in a sense so are their traditional dogs.
It's not just me, a qallunaaq living well below the tree line in a suburban New England (U.S.A.) community, who believes the Inuit Dog continues to influence today's Arctic. Their mid-20th century history was a driving force in the establishment of truth commissions looking into the reasons for the precipitous fall in the number of dogs in the 1950s. Although a modern "invention", Ivakkak (Nunavik) and the Nunavut Quest are traditional dog team races that aim to remind Inuit of their proud history of survival on the land. Today's Inuit Dogs are employed to do far more than just serve as icons of the traditional means of travel on the land. As this editorial is being written, the Ilisaqsivik Society's (Clyde River, Nunavut) 2012 Qimmivut (Our Dogs) workshop is underway. Begun on February 20th, it is scheduled for six weeks this year. In a June 2011 story in The Fan Hitch about Qimmivut, coordinator Jake Gearheard said, "The purpose of the Qimmivut workshop is to provide an opportunity for participants to share cultural skills, knowledge and values. The workshop promotes mental, spiritual and physical well-being, and validates and transfers Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) - the body of knowledge and unique cultural insights of Inuit into the workings of nature, humans and animals; closer to Inuit ways of thinking and being – associated with Inuit societal values, hunting, traveling, working with dogs, camping, and being on the land."
A March 7, 20112 article in Nunatsiaq News Online described the confirmation of rabies in arctic foxes and dogs in the Nunavik communities of Kuujjuaq and Kuujjuaraapik. The virus is not uncommon in arctic wild mammals (except perhaps rodents). It is always fatal and it is considered zoonotic, a disease that can be transmitted from animals, both wild and domestic, to humans in which it is also fatal in an ugly sort of way. In some cases, early symptoms (once expressed, death is certain) are not always recognized and can result in dangerous exposures to family, friends and care givers. But if the victim is diagnosed within a very short time after others are exposed, those at risk can successfully avoid dying with the administration of an unpleasant and expensive series of injections.
I see, and I hope others will recognize as well, that the establishment of permanent veterinary service in the Arctic is the modern equivalent of the adoption of the rifle as a useful tool. A veterinarian would be one of those introductions to the North that offers many positive advantages. I have been told that modern veterinary medical care and traditional Inuit Dog keeping sometimes clash, but that as more dog owners, working dog owners in particular, are exposed to veterinary medicine, they are beginning to embrace its benefits, just like their predecessors did by embracing the rifle. Both dog owners and the powers that be who are in a position to make permanent veterinary care in the Arctic become a reality must come to understand that veterinarians aren't just for "making nice" to animals. Veterinarians, with their entire repertoire of capabilities, serve in many ways the health needs of humans, too. (The first to discover the West Nile Virus in the United States, a serious vector-borne zoonotic disease of humans as well as animals, was a veterinarian.) And in the North one might even argue that they can contribute to the preservation of Inuit tradition as well. I used to be more willing to give northern decision-makers a pass, saying that socio-economic issues in the North and the money needed to address them have to take precedent over improving animal welfare. But the continued existence of traditional Inuit Dogs is more than just an animal welfare issue.
My message is not new. But this just happens to be a time of year when many Inuit Dog related events are taking place – Ivakkak, the Nunavut Quest, the debut of Piksuk Media's Nunavut Quest documentary and website, Qimmivut and the recent confirmation of rabies in wildlife and domestic dogs – that reprising this issue now makes sense. And while meeting the current and future needs of these dogs may require more than the equivalent of an "ounce" of prevention, surely the value that can come of it seems to represent a meaningful and worthwhile investment.
Wishing you smooth ice and narrow leads,