The Fan Hitch Volume 15, Number 1, December 2012

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog                                    
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Astrup’s Harness

Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest, Pt. 2

Sleds, Dogs and Nitrate Film

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CAAT 2012 Baker Lake Animal Wellness Clinic

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The support team                                Photo: Sanguya

Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest, Part 2
April 23 - 30, 2012

As told by dog teamer Joelie Sanguya

(edited by Shari Gearheard)

While there is still only the one, original Nunavut Quest, in the last two years this race has taken place on the west side of Baffin Island and very far for communities on the east side of the island to attend.  So communities on the east side decided to hold their own, more regional race called the "Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest", now in in its second year. Ed.

The next day was as usual. Our support teams left camp one hour before the dog teams who then left the camp at one-minute intervals in the order that we had arrived the day before (person with the least amount of time day before leaves first and so on).  At this time our dogs weren’t as energetic as when we left Clyde River. Dogs weren’t running all the way to the next camp, and throughout this travel day my dogs were trotting at a very good speed but not as fast as I wanted. I wanted my dogs to run fast, expressing that this was a dog team race.

Aisa Piungituq and his team were ahead of me while two more teams were ahead of him and the rest of the teams were behind us.  An unforgettable sight appeared ahead of us.  Some qamutiit were ahead of us right on the main trail.  As we approached the qamutiit, a beautiful lady, Nina Keyootak, more physically fit than many men, and who was supporting one of the Qikiqtarjuaq dog teamers, was sitting right on the qamutik while her snowmobile was being used by another person to help another qamutik.  I caught up to Aisa, drew slightly ahead of him, then our dogs mixed and tangled together so I had to place the front portion of his qamutik on the hind section on my qamutik.  Like this, we inched along on this soft snow with slush at the bottom.  I asked Nina Keyootak as we passed, “Does it look as though I might be thrown off the qamutik at this speed we’re travelling?”  This would have made her day in this moment; this was one slow dog team race for us. 

As we left the slushy area we untangled our ipiutat (traces) and a few dog teams behind us did go by. We would have to catch up to those teams and hopefully pass them again.  Sometimes things just don’t work the way we hope.

Dog teaming was underway for our two teams again as I wiped off the slush from the surface of my qamutik. My face was dripping with sweat from this work as I finally continued along the trail. Then I realized I had dropped my parka. By now it was a distance behind. I knew if Aisa, who was now behind me, picked it up, he would get time deducted as a reward for helping.  Over an hour passed as he got closer to me and asked if I was cold. I let one long trace drag behind my qamutik that he could tie the parka to. That’s exactly what happened and how I retrieved my parka.

That night after most of the dog teams had arrived at camp, some ski-doos were still coming into the camp. One dog team had to be brought in by skidoo, carrying the dogs in a qamutik box. Meanwhile, most of us were getting ready for the last day of the race to Qikiqtarjuaq. This was going to be a slow day even though we dog teamers wanted it to be the fastest leg of the race.  I’m sure that it wasn’t going to happen to me.

This part of the year was known as the ‘eve of destruction’ of the winter season as the cracks in the sea ice were opening up as the warmer, longer days developed. At this point we were already looking forward to the next dog teaming season.
On the final day of the race to Qikiqtarjuaq, the racers were to leave camp all at the same time as opposed to one minute apart.  We discussed this and other plans for the last leg during our usual daily meeting where we discussed different issues and came to agreements about race matters. The decision was made that dog teams would leave before the support crews so that everyone in camp would have a chance to see the dog teamers leave.  This must have been a good sight but as far as we racers were concerned it was a slow start and we all wanted dogs to be running. But most of the dogs trotted or walked because most of the dogs did their running for over four hundred kilometers over different terrain for the last week.  The day turned out to be one that some of us were trying for more speed than other racing days.

On this race day, some snowmobiles passed by and that made my dogs run faster. That pleased me and I wished that I could have kept up with those machines.  Then Qikiqtarjuaq came in sight and I just didn’t have words to tell my dogs that we were nearing the final place. If I could have explained it better to the dogs, I might have travelled faster on this day.

The beautiful crowd of Qikiqtarjuaq people was on the sea ice waiting for dog teams to arrive.  As I crossed the finish line, I stopped as many people came over to shake my hand.  The crowd picked up my qamutik with me aboard and raised it over their heads. This was a way of welcoming me, as the crowd would welcome many more just like this. After the fourth driver came in, it took awhile for the rest of teams to make it to Qikiqtarjuaq.

The winner, Josie Esa Piungituq, arrives in Qikiqtarjuaq.
Photo: Sanguya

In this unforgiving Great White North, to welcome people from other places is to eat with them and that’s exactly what happened. In Qikiqtarjuaq we enjoyed a community feast which included clams (Qikiqtarjuaq is known for their delicious clams).  In Qikiqtarjuaq we also met our old friends, made new friends, received prizes for the dog team race and prepared our things and machines to travel back to Clyde, our next agenda.  Qamutiit were traded, broken snow machines were fixed, proper boots were purchased (we had to go back through the slush again), tents were mended, and other personal tasks were the things we worked on for the return trek. Qikiqtarjuarmiut, (people of Qikiqtarjuaq) offered help and gave items we required for the trip because they knew about what we needed and what lay ahead.  They gave parts for broken snowmobiles and food for people and dogs.

Soon, our friends from Pond Inlet, two teams, a father and a son, along with their family, headed for home.

 “Qimualajut”, the Qikiqtarjuaq dog team committee, had worked on their fundraising throughout the winter to put on the race events in the community, which people did enjoy. People looked forward to eventful nights while “Isuraqtujuq”, Clyde’s dog team committee, did the same thing in their community for this meaningful time.  At the events the “Qimualajut” team sat together while part of “Isuraqtujuq” team who was there sat together –  they both have worked on this event.  And at the different events and celebrations it was not just dog teamers and race participants who gathered together. The whole community enjoyed and celebrated the occasion. Here in the crowds sat children, youth, men and women and Elders.  Among these Qikiqtarjuarmiut in their own small beautiful community’s culture, some did not know exactly the meaning of the events. Others realized the importance of the race and the celebration of the race through the unforgiving environment of this great central east coast of Baffin Island.  The knowledgeable people who participated in the race made the “Central East Coast Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest” a special occasion. In Qikiqtarjuaq, where there are very few dog teams, little by little things come and quietly change or refresh the community.  Here we have some children, young people and ordinary people who may eventually decide to have a dog team one day, inspired by the event. This event does get people more involved in the idea and culture of dog teaming, even if it just starts with people saying,  “I like your dog team,” or “You and your dogs won,” or “Your dogs are fast, I want to have a dog team even better than that.”  The challenge can become an obsession and for some people, “I will do that in my life,” is put into their minds.

After getting what we needed for the trip home to Clyde River, I left Qikiqtarjuaq by dog team before my support crew left. When my family caught up to me, we unleashed the dogs to run free and I got onto the ski-doo.  But just before we got to where some Canadian Rangers were camping, we leashed the dogs again so that they would not go all over their tents smelling food. Then we drove on to meet three families from Qikiqtarjuaq and camped with that group. The next day Tomasie Nuqinngaq gave me a big box for my qamutik so that I could put my dogs in it. I got to pull two qamutiit
at once by ski-doo on the journey to Clyde River. This made our travelling much faster so that I could keep up with the rest of the teams on this trip home.

That day we drove towards Pilaktuaq, but before we got to it we hit the slush. I thought because the first group already drove in it, it really shouldn’t take us too long to pass the slushy area. Billions and trillions of tons of snow had fallen from the sky, and now it was sitting on the sea ice and land, but in this area where there is less wind it was soft and sitting where we were travelling.  The view looked so beautiful, calm and easy to drive over, just like the rest of the sea ice we had travelled on. But the weight of the snow was heavy enough that it pushed down the sea ice about a foot in some areas, less in so others, but it meant the ice surface flooded. And this was nature’s development that we were about to travel on.

Six snowmobiles were pulling nine qamutiit at this time. Three snowmobiles were helping us through this slush. We all knew that we were about to drive through the slushy area but we could not say how much slush there was or for how many miles. We just took it just the way it was.  On this soft snow where the trail ran through, we had to stop in a straight line because if we got off the trail, we would get stuck for sure and we wanted to avoid getting stuck and adding more time to our travel.

Most of us had gotten boots ahead of time because we knew we were going to hit this slush area. Some of us, the dog teamers, were now facing what our support crews faced during the race, but this time there was much more weight to pull and we could not say for how long. The only thing that we knew was where the first group had gone through this area the day before, we could tell it took work. Three snowmobilers from Qikiqtarjuaq were there to help us through this slush area. Because they pass this way all the time, they were familiar with this environment and knew it differed every year and understood that this slush frequently happened. This was the time of year it happened in this fashion as Qikiqtarjuaq men were saying and this is something that doesn’t happen frequently every year but this year it did.

When the first ski-doo stopped, the qamutik sank into the slush because there was not enough traction for the snowmobiles to pull the kind of weight we had on our qamutik.  Another snowmobile went to help pull one qamutik. Throughout this process, there were two snowmobiles pulling one qamutik, then three snowmobiles, then four, then five, to the point where six snowmobiles had to pull one qamutik with long strong ropes in order to avoid rope snapping, but it did happen few times. There were times when even six snowmobiles could not get one qamutik going. So we had to overturn some qamutiit in order to shovel out the snow and slush trapped underneath the cross pieces, the reason why it became impossible for the snowmobiles to pull.  Snowmobiles with wider tracks and Arctic Cats were able to move around much more. In the time we hauled out each qamutik then fetched another qamutik one at a time, I had used more than twenty gallons of gasoline. And one time my ski-doo ran out of oil.  Sometimes as we worked when I hit a piece of ice hidden within the snow, I would be thrown off my snowmobile, landing in a wet soft snow and getting my clothing wet. Many times I would wring my mittens so the water would come out, my skin pruned and some of it turned white and some yellow from the color of my mittens. It happened that we got Ulaajuq’s and my qamutiit out first ahead of time so that Rhoda (Ulaajuq’s wife) and Igah would make hot water so we could have something to eat to energize our bodies for this type of work.

In English I said, “I love this type of event in traveling,” as we hauled more qamutiit out of the slush. I drove around the women joking and I called Igah “Honey”. I’m sure her answer came out in colorful words, as it had many times before, because she doesn’t want to be called “Honey” as this word is not our first language.

Some snowmobiles were getting stuck just by traveling off the trail. Some of us brought shovels and others didn’t and that also made the difference. We finally got out of the slush area but for some reason we stopped for a while in a line away from the slush. This experience allowed young people who were part of the support crews to learn from others who were involved and had more experience of what do to in these conditions. Victor, our grandson, said it took over twenty hours to get through the slush area. I didn’t keep time as I enjoy the drama. This should have been filmed as it was awesome. This race turned out to be more than just traveling from “A” to “B”. 

Driving to the next camp I was so tired that I almost fell asleep so Igah had to drive rest of the way. When we got to the camp it was very nice to meet up with our fellow Clyde River friends. Jake brought over some hot water, tea, coffee, sugar, milk and a spoon. That was very nice. 

The next day, I went on a little drive to hunt some seals but they kept going into their breathing holes. Because I didn’t get any seals I thought to myself, “These guys know who the sharp shooter is.”

We continued traveling and encountered a little bit of slush but not as much as the area we already drove through.  As we traveled on, Clyde River racer Jason Palluq used his dog team.  My qamutik was having trouble with one of the runners so I let my dogs run free.  There were many fresh polar bear tracks and the dogs smelled the bears and ran in that direction. It took us a while to get them back on the trail again.  We drove to a place we knew as Nilaktarviruluk and camped there. After sleeping through the night, I refitted the cross pieces on my qamutik so that it would do the traveling the way I knew it was supposed to work. We traveled over land for a while, then sea ice, and then over land again. We hit a foggy area and, as I was traveling, I noticed that the other travelers were not going in the right direction. But I stayed on the trail because if I strayed from this trail and if I ran out of gasoline, travelers behind me would not find me.

We traveled towards the sea ice and stopped when we reached it.  Continuing more towards Clyde River I got so tired again that Igah had to drive us the rest of the way home to Clyde River.

The Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest was so different from all of the dog team races I have gone to. The experience makes me want to do some more of this Nunavut Quest.

Atulauqtavut (this is what we experienced),

Joelie Sanguya

Joelie Sanguya was born into a traditional Inuit family on the east coast of Baffin Island.  He received schooling in the community of Clyde River and later, outside Nunavut to become a teacher, then school principal and education administrator.  In all, Joelie worked in the Nunavut school system for 25 years before taking on consulting assignments as a group facilitator and mediator. He is currently chairman of the board of the Ilisaqsivik Society, a social service agency in Clyde River. In 2002 Joelie acquired his first group of sled dogs since his boyhood and proceeded to build a team that participates in the annual Nunavut Quest long-distance race on northern Baffin Island.  Joelie began to work in film and television in 2003 and joined with Charlotte DeWolff and Ole Gjerstad in forming Piksuk Media in 2005.

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