From the Editor: The Statistics of Sharing
Contaminated Water! Yet Another
Long-standing Debacle in Iqaluit
Searching for the Shelters of Stone
How to Loose a Husky Team
A New Home for the BAS Husky Memorial Bronze Statue
Historical and Climatic Prerequisites of the
Appearance of the Population of Sled Dogs of the
Shoreline of the Chukotka Peninsula
The Sledge Patrol documentary update
Major Virus Issues in Canada’s North and
Canine Parvovirus Infects Inuit Dogs in
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, 1978
A Decade of Service: The Chinook Project’s
2015 Labrador Animal Wellness Clinic
Inuk’s release in North America!
Book Review: Games of Survival: Traditional
Inuit Games for Elementary Students
IMHO: The Presumption of Good Faith
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Historical and Climatic Prerequisites of the Appearance of the
Population of Sled Dogs of the Shoreline of the Chukotka Peninsula
I thank archivist and collector of archive data on the Karaev family, Vitaly Yastremsky (Toko), whose stories contain much of interesting material about life in the north.
In general, the climate of Chukotka is damp, cold and with abundance of fogs. Bering wrote: “The climate is difficult and unbearable”. The peninsula is located on the -10° C isotherm, entirely in the permafrost zone.
The determining factors of the temperature regime of the Chukotka Peninsula are not the winter frosts but rather the low temperatures during the entire year, because morning temperatures in June are only 5-6° C and in the evening it can be -1 to -2° C. Moreover, the total number of days with temperatures below freezing is considerable – 279 days.
The number of foggy days is 107 days per year (29.4%) and there are 94 days with blizzards (25.8%). Clear days, when the sky is less than 50% overcast, number 36 per year (9.8%) and days with cloud covering 8/10 of the sky number 155 per year (42.6%).
Strong winds make work and movement in Chukotka difficult. The number of days with strong winds (7 points on the Beaufort scale) is 114 (32.3%) per year (A. Kaltan, “Account of a survey of the Chukotka Peninsula, 1930-1931, for the Border Protection Headquarters, Far East).
Climate and Way of Life of the Shoreline
Since times immemorial, Chukotka was not merely populated by primeval hunters; it served also as a land bridge for people from America. Dry land across the Bering Straits opened up several times. Peoples came and went, but the strongest and most skillful of them remained on the shores of the Arctic and Pacific oceans, where they found unlimited food resources, thanks to hunting marine mammals.
Half of the dugout earth huts of the people, who lived on these shores in the first half of the first millennium AD, were built out of whalebones. The abundance of these large mammals in relation to the people and subsequently their sled dogs is confirmed by the fact that the land between the huts was completely covered with the scapular bones of whales. With the availability of this basic source of food, the worsening climate could not force the people to leave such as plentiful land. People had to improve their homes and hunting tools and found the only possible way of transportation, by using sled dogs.
Eskimo tribes of Asia, America and Greenland, when they dispersed from the common region of their origin into the modern area of their distribution, brought with them their paleo-arctic culture and their dogs, which help the Arctic people in their life along the shores of the Arctic seas. The smallest of those seashore sled dogs is the sled dog of Chukotka. The answer to the question ‘why?’ lies in the climatic conditions of the region. Here winter is 9 months long and the remaining 3 months are not really summer. Most of this time is either spring or fall, and only 2-3 weeks can be considered as summer. Breeding under such conditions is difficult.
In the early 20th century, settlements of 2-3 families were scattered all over the shore line of the Chukotka Peninsula, from Cross Gulf to Ion. This permitted a traveler with dog sleds to stop overnight in the comfort of a home environment and risk less of a long journey under harsh winter conditions. The traditional hospitality of the Chukchi and Eskimo people also facilitated travel in wintertime. The host felt obliged to feed the guest and his dogs. This allowed the traveler not to carry too many supplies. The reindeer herding Chukchi also used products obtained by hunting marine animals. These included skins for clothing, the famous rolled walrus meat (“kopalkhen”) and seal fat used as lamp oil and for heating inside the home. The shore people obtained deer skins for clothing and for comfort inside the home, fresh deer meat, which was considered a delicacy, and other necessities. The reindeer herding Chukchi rarely came to the shore for trading, because reindeer cannot find food there. Therefore, the functions of shipping freight were laid on dogs. Nordensheld, during his expedition in 1878-1879 in “Vega”, wrote that the shoreline Chukchi travel in dog sleds. In days free of fishing, they travel along the shore for bartering. Deer herding was done without using reindeer herding dogs and there were no accidental dog matings during trading encounters. The shore line sled dog population remained pure until the mid-20th century, because of the absence of other type dogs. Only sled dogs from the Kolyma River and the Anadyr River penetrated into this region. However, taking into account the castration of sled dogs, there was no mass mixing, as happened in regions further to the south. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries “all-round dogs” for keeping inside began appearing. For example, Tikhonenko saw at Cape Chaplin a mix of “a poor Japanese dachshund”, which must have arrived there from a Japanese ship. However, in general, this kind of mating was infrequent; the sled dog population was protected by the harsh climate. Only well adapted dogs could survive here. Gradually, Eskimo and settled Chukchi people began building homes out of driftwood, walrus bones and deerskins and in the 19th century they constructed the yaranga, as it is known. In 1779, Siberian governor Chicherin reported to Ekaterina the II: “Settled Chukchi, living near the sea, do not have reindeer; they ride in sleds pulled by dogs. They make yurts, dug in the earth, out of wood, which they collect on the beach.”
The yaranga of the nomadic and settled Chukchi had generally a similar structure, but its proportions varied. Shoreline Chukchi rarely took the yaranga apart and moved it. Therefore, it was wider in diameter, especially in the inner part of the home. Often its size was like a large room and particularly its outer colder part, which Russian travelers compared with the covered yard of northern Russian houses. Here, people stored food and equipment and dogs were allowed inside in blizzards. Food was also prepared here and guests were received. It was a place for sleeping and, according to travellers, puppies were kept there for “entertaining the children”. The dogs were trained to behave well when inside and to go out to relieve themselves when they needed.
Whales and Corsets
From the middle of the 19th century, the hunting of marine mammals declined. A. Kaltan offers the following numbers in his account:
Now (1905) only about 25 whales
Ten years ago 40 whales
Twenty years ago 60 whales
Fifty year ago 200 whales
Starvation was coming to the shores....Women’s fashion for corsets was to blame. From the middle of the 19th century, 250 whaler ships killed up to 3000 whales in the Okhotsk and Barents seas. These whales were taken out of populations migrating during the spring/fall period near the shores of the Chukotka Peninsula. After Alaska was sold to the USA, pressure on Chukotka resources became a mass predatory activity. For example, in 1885, from the Chukotka shores, 35 foreign ships took 120,000 pounds of walrus tusks. Walrus was hunted with firearms and up to 70% of injured walruses were lost. Some populations of walruses and seals coming to breed here for hundreds of years were completely exterminated. This resulted in the starvation of the local people. In the past Chukchi and Eskimo people adapted to the worsening climate and solved transportation problem with durable sled dogs, but they could not withstand the disappearance of their food resource. Villagers of the Bering Straits suffered less, but north of the Severny Cape (now Schmidt Cape) the number of yarangas rapidly declined.
In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, Chukotka sled dogs acquired a new purpose. With the introduction of the internal combustion engine, small ships were able to maneuver against the wind and ice sheets. As a result, a new wave of traders came to Chukotka. According to the records of Nome, in 1910 42 ships traveled to Chukotka. The list of the most abundant items used in the trade were pelts of polar fox, lakhtak, seal, walrus tusks, whale bone and skins of polar bear. Sled dogs also were taken for transportation and later on as breeders of the future Siberian Husky. Shoreline Chukchi and reindeer breeding Chukchi also used sled dogs for journeys along the shores. Sverdrup describes the method of husbandry, when the major yarangas were left in the village, while the young people traveled with the herd, using light tents for sleeping. Sled dog teams during the winter time would run to the shore several times for trading different necessary merchandise and foodstuffs. The demand for sled dogs increased, but their breeding did not. The climatic difficulties were further complicated by winter starvation. Sled dogs from the Kolyma River and the Anadyr River were born. Even in the 1930s, according to descriptions of Tikhonenko, each year hundreds of dogs were born in Chukotka. This tells us not only about the high demand for dogs, but also about the high mortality among dogs poorly adapted to the local climate, as happened with the dog team from the Enissey River belonging to Amundsen. Amundsen lost all his dogs in one trip and he wrote that the journey was not worth such a price. In the next year the remaining two dogs of Sverdrup’s team, running on sea ice, quickly injured their pads, which they had damaged in the winter of the previous year. This shows how the dogs of Chukotka live. Sverdrup also described how during his journey he could not take off to travel along the eastern shore, because the wind was so strong that the dogs could not stay on their legs. During the 1870 km and 68 days of travel, on 25 days it was totally impossible to move.
In pictures taken in the 20th century, one can see sled dogs of Chukotka of a rather uniform type. Undoubtedly they belonged to people who cared about planned breeding of dogs. One can also see very diverse dogs, as a consequence of unplanned breeding and epidemics among dogs. Epidemics wiped out human populations as well as the dogs. The first veterinary clinic in Chukotka appeared in 1929. Tikhonenko described well the condition of the population in his book “Chukotka Sled Dog” (in Russian): “During 7 years of work on the Chukotka Peninsula, I surveyed 651 dog breeding facilities of the Chukchi and Eskimo people and examined 7,000 dogs; and I became convinced that dog breeding is haphazard over the entire Chukotka Peninsula. The absence or pure breeds of dogs can be attributed to the incorrect and random running of the husbandry”. Further he comments that dogs which were unsuitable for local conditions arrived from the Anadyr and the Kolyma Rivers and that “the similar type of the best Eskimo type dogs of northeastern Siberia (Chukotka) can produce a stable type with outstanding strength, endurance and running speed.” This was proven in full during his work with kennels of two bases, Chukotka Base at Lavrentia Bay and Chaunsky Base at the Shelagsky Cape.
Dogs and the Soviets
The 1930s were a breaking point in life in Chukotka. Previously, the Soviet authorities only visited Chukotka, but now they began settling there. First, this affected the life of the shore line peoples. Yet in the account of P. Ivanov, 1925-1926, the Revolutionary Committee of the Chukotka region, the Eskimo and Chukchi of the shoreline region were named “Americanophiles”. These people were interested in merchandise brought from America and in the summer time worked on American ships; and many of them visited or lived in America and spoke English well. In Dezhnev Cape and its surroundings, there were numerous trading posts and the largest settlement called Uelen with 35 yarangas and four wooden houses was there. The agreement with the American company Swainson about exclusive trading rights in Chukotka along with “Dalgostorg”, which supplied goods from Kamchatka, was a mistake. Poor knowledge of the needs of the local people resulted in higher prices of goods from “Dalgostorg” than American goods and prices paid for skins barely covered the cost of ammunition.
There was an urgent need to attract the shoreline people to take the side of the Soviet authorities. Major discrepancies were associated exactly with sled dogs. The organization of the authorities of the settlements should meet the requirements of “committees” and “cells” with their endless meetings and many journeys by a considerable number of people. In Chukotka, traditionally, journeys were secured by staying overnight and free meals and free food for the dogs. The organization of dining restaurants for people was contrary to the customs of the Chukchi people: why should they pay money for the meal and food for the dogs? Ivanov wrote in his account: “If here, in a red yaranga, if an indigenous man could not find meal and warmth, he would rather go to his tribesmen, who would feed his dogs and tell him in the morning: natives travel to you on their own and your needs. We feed them and their dogs. We do not have meat and we will starve soon”. Ivanow suggests: “the guest red yaranga should have 1) clean and spacious room; 2) hot tea, bread, and sugar free of charge; 3) food for the dogs, also free; 4) a person on duty, who would talk with the visitors about politics, trade, the Soviet government, the national politics of the Communist Party, etc., etc.”
In general, the chief of the Chukotka Base, who said that sled dogs in Chukotka were not needed, because soon they would be replaced with motorized sleds, was soon declared a public enemy and before the local population of dogs began to decline it remained in good shape for several decades. On the shores of the Chukotka Peninsula, from the Krest Gulf to Aion there were 800 yarangas and both Eskimos and Chukchi kept dogs, which had been described in the standard of Siberian Husky as “capable of running over long distances”. This was dictated by the economic needs of Chukotka in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
This article is reprinted with permission from the July 2015 issue of the Primitive and Aboriginal Society (PADS), International Journal (Number 44). It is the first article of a new series by Elena Potseluyeva about the aboriginal sled dogs of Chukotka peninsula. That you may enjoy future articles of this kind, please consider joining PADS.