The Fan Hitch Volume 2, Number 3, May 2000

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

From the Editor
Nunavut Quest 2000:
More Than a Race
Nunavut Quest 2000:
Drivers' Meeting
Nunavut Quest 2000:
On the Trail
Nunavut Quest 2000:
Race Results
Poem: Dogs of the Sledge Trail
Inuit Demand Inquiry of Historical Dog Extermination Policy
Nunavut's Offical Symbols
Niels Pedersen, D.V.M:
The Veterinary Service in Greenland
ISDI Foundation:
Sled Dog Problems in Iqaluit
Baking: Dog Cookie Recipe
Crafts: Save That Hair
Behavioral Notebook:
Social Order
Book Review:
Polar Dream
In My Humble Opinion: 
Sharing the Trail
Ihe ISDVMA Meeting

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

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The crowd celebrates Panueli Okango's first place sprint race finish 
                                                                          Hamilton photo

Nunavut Quest 2000:
More Than A Race
by Mark Hamilton

The event was run from Pond Inlet to Arctic Bay this year. Like life in the arctic itself, the starting time had to be adjusted due to weather. Winter had left deep, soft, unpacked snow along many trails, on others bare ground. Except for the team from Kuujuak who had been flown in from Nunavik (Northern Quebec) courtesy of First Air, entrants had to mush from their villages to the starting line. Poor trail conditions made just getting to Pond difficult on both the dogs and mushers.

More teams came from the village of Igloolik than from any other.  The Igloolik mushers, and their support personnel, traveled to Pond in a group. It took them ten days. The last team to arrive in Pond Inlet was that of Andrew Taqtu, from Arctic Bay, the eventual third place finisher. He reported being forced to double back and find a new trail due to bare ground and exposed rocks.

We arrived in Pond Inlet on the Friday evening (March 24th) before the scheduled Monday race start. Our plan was to fly to Arctic Bay the following Tuesday, after viewing the start. We hoped to see some teams arrive in Arctic Bay before we returned to the south.

Saturday morning, on the ice in front of the hamlet, we discovered that so far only two teams had arrived. There were a number of local teams of course, including that of Panueli Okango who we knew to be entered in the race. We viewed and photographed dogs, speculated on whether the race would start on time, then spent the balance of the morning with our friends Jayko and Philippa Ootoowak and their son Alex.  Their home is "on the beach" and out of their livingroom picture window, they have a magnificent view and can see all the pre-race activity out on the ice.  Jayko had not entered this year's event as he felt his team was too young and inexperienced. The morning passed quickly as we shared pictures and stories of the Ootoowak pups that live "down in the south". The big news about the Ootoowak team was that Jayko had built a new pen for his dogs. In the previous enclosure the dogs still needed to be attached to a stake out chain. Now the dogs were loose, free to interact with each other, not just the dog staked out nearest to them.

Sunday morning we found there still were no new teams out on the ice. That evening, Phillipa called to say another team had just arrived and that she had heard that a number of people from town had left to assist teams struggling to get to Pond. In addition to bad snow conditions support teams, traveling by snowmobile, were having their own share of difficulties: bogged down in the deep snow, mechanical failures and running out of fuel.

Also Sunday evening we spoke on the telephone with Lee Narraway, writer and photographer, who had just arrived to cover the race for Above & Beyond magazine and act as official race timer. Lee had traveled from Arctic Bay with one of the support teams. We arranged a meeting for Monday morning. At this point it seemed unlikely to us that the race would start on schedule.

Monday morning Lee walked up to our place, then together we walked over to the at the Nattinnak Cultural Centre. After viewing the displays, we retreated to a sunny corner to talk. If you get to meet Lee, our guess is you're going to like her. She's a kindred spirit - doggy, with a love for the North. We shared stories and compared lists of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes you wonder why you don't already know somebody when you have so much in common. She confirmed we were going to miss everything if we left for Arctic Bay on Tuesday. The race would start at some as yet undetermined point later in the week and we'd be leaving Arctic Bay well before any teams would arrive there. We went to the airport around noon time and started the process of rescheduling our flight plans. By that evening we learned everything was in order. We would stay in Pond Inlet until Saturday before heading directly back to Iqaluit, sadly by passing Arctic Bay altogether. 

Lee, ready for the trail             Hamilton photo

By Tuesday thirteen teams, the total entry, were on the ice in front of the hamlet. There would have been 14 entries, but upon its arrival in Pond, last year's winning team from Arctic Bay was sold to a local musher who immediately took the dogs and his German clients out on a polar bear hunt.  We went back onto the ice to photograph teams and individual dogs, wishing we knew who owned each.  In the afternoon we met Lee at the hamlet's Rebecca P. Idlout Library. In honor of the 2000 Quest, librarian Philippa Ootoowak had set up an impressive display of dog sledge related photos and stories.  We were also there to drool over the library's fabulous collection of arctic literature.  Lee had made arrangements to interview one of the elders who came to the hamlet with the support crews from Arctic Bay. The interview attracted the attention of still more elders and soon a collection of people were sitting on the floor, examining old photographs from the Doug Wilkinson Collection, attaching post-it notes to pictures where they could identify the people. We would have stayed hours longer but it was already past closing, time to move on as the driver’s meeting was scheduled for that evening in the Hamlet Offices (see separate report elsewhere in this issue).

Wednesday afternoon, out on the ice, entrant Andrew Taqtu identified for us where each team was from and we quickly completed videotaping and photographing all the dogs. That evening a feast was held at the Community Hall to celebrate the race and honor the drivers. We had attended a community feast in the western Canadian Arctic (Inuvik) a few years back. It had been sort of a covered dish party.  Everyone brought something, and there were lots of "country foods" to sample.  For our contribution to this affair, we went to the Northern Store and bought a couple of bags of plastic knives and forks, Styrofoam cups and paper plates. But at this feast, everything was served frozen and raw and the only utensil needed was a sharp knife or ulu! Pieces of caribou meat and chunks of frozen ingesta (stomach contents), Arctic char heads and filets and strips of narhwale muktuk were served on 15 foot long pieces of cardboard laid out on the floor on top of plastic trash bags. Most people just squatted around the cardboard, like it was a very low table. When everything was eaten they rolled up the cardboard and stuffed it into plastic bags. By the way, caribou tastes better frozen raw than it does cooked.

Thursday a sprint race was held to determine the order of selection in the drawing they used for assigning starting positions. Since any of a number of methods could be used to determine the order of selection it is best to look on the sprint race as a gift to the community. It allows the host village's residents of see all the teams go out and return, whereas on race day the teams start and are gone, not to return.

With still photography and video work to identify the teams done, we were in no hurry to get our day started. Sue went to the Co-op and Northern Store to buy some gift items while I stayed in catching up on my writing. She returned shortly before noon to show her purchases and to announce she'd volunteered us to help Rocky, the hamlet recreation director, create numbered bibs for the drivers. Rocky thought he had some red tee shirts we'd be able to modify for the task.

About 1:30, we met Rocky at the Community Hall. He had bought some water proof nylon yard goods from the Co-op because he couldn't find the tee shirts. Now, with a sprint race to witness and dinner yet to happen, we needed a no-sewing pattern for bibs, complete with ties so that the drivers could secure the bottom around their waists, ready in time for the evening's selection ceremony! We experimented with folding the yard goods up in such a way as to give us enough panels to give every driver a bib plus have a few extras for replacements on the trail. We came up with a scheme that gave us 18 panels. Next we simulated the panel size with paper hand towels taped together with electrical tape. I developed pattern that required only cutting. In assembly line fashion, I marked out each pattern, Sue did the cutting, Lee outlined large numbers so she would be assured of seeing them at a distance, and Rocky filled them in with the magic markers.   Working together, the whole project took a little over two hours.

A little after 4 o'clock, we went out on the ice. A starting gate was denoted by two poles bearing Canadian flags set a little over a 100 yards apart, a 1/4 of a mile off and parallel to the shore.  Everyone got to the starting line at different times, the first arriving fully 45 minutes before the last. Panueli and Jushua (from Clyde River) were the first to the starting gate. Their dogs quietly lay in their harnesses waiting for the start when others hadn't even begun to harness their dogs. Eventually team after team began migrating toward the starting line and, in time, all were in the gate. The officials took a few minutes to say a few things and then over the bull horn came, "Five, four, three, two, one, go".  All thirteen teams took off at once!

The mass start of the Nunavut Quest 2000 sprint race on the sea ice in front of Pond Inlet   Hamilton photo

By the time the teams took off at 5 PM, a considerably sized crowd was on hand. A loud sound, unlike any cheer I've ever heard, was created by the assembly to encourage the drivers and dogs. The race took less than an hour. Teams were visible much of the time, in the distance, through binoculars. Pretty soon two teams were coming in, contesting for the 1st place position to the very end. The sprint was won by the only local entrant, Panueli Okango, and with another great roar, the crowd quickly surrounded him, then hoisted him, as he sat on his qamutik, above their heads. Then, just as quickly they surrounded the second place finisher, Jr. May from Kuujuak, and with another great roar he too was hoisted into the air as he sat on his sled. This reward also was bestowed on the third place finisher and, perhaps since this would be the last time the crowd would perform this task, they held him aloft rather longer then the first two.

The crowd cheered wildly as it rushed forward to surround each team upon its return, pushing the finish line progressively further off shore. After all the teams were in and had been properly greeted by the crowd, teams started returnung to their stakeouts. Now, suddenly, amid shrill squeals and giggles, portions of the crowd scattered helter skelter to avoid being run down by the dogs. Exhausted after another long day and not looking forward to the steep climb back to our bed and breakfast, we were fortunate to be offered a lift with a troop of Ranger Cadets in the back of a former Police pickup truck. Thanks guys.

After dinner we once again returned to the Community Hall for the starting position drawing and the awarding of 1st, 2nd & 3rd place prizes for the sprint race. Panueli drew first and, to the home town crowds' glee, came up with the #1 starting position. After the position selection process all drivers donned their bibs and lined up in the front of the hall for photographs. They were then joined by their trail support. Finally they would have been joined by Lee Narraway, if she had been in the hall, but Lee had already departed in hopes of getting one last good night's sleep.

It was 10:45 Friday morning when the Panueli team left the chute, signaling the start of the Nunavut Quest 2000. The crowd was at least as large as it had been the evening before at the sprint race. The schools had suspended classes so that the kids could attend with a clear conscience. Again the teams were lined up abreast between two flags. There had been a few last minute instructions to the drivers and a quick prayer before the starter gave a "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go" command over the bull horn. This cycle was to be repeated twelve more times at one minute intervals. Panueli didn't get a clean start. His team fanned out quickly and part of them started into the crowd. Because of his closeness to the crowd he couldn't give a steering command with his whip. The crowd scattered.  Unbeknownst to me, Sue was in the middle of all this, lining up for a picture. For her, one moment the crowd milled about in front of her, the next they scattered leaving her directly in the path of the dogs, with no where to go. She did the only thing possible, turned her back to the team and fell face forward into the snow. The team just ran her over, and except for having her hood pulled off she was fine. Sorry, it doesn't show up on the video tape.

The first team off the line in the Nunavut Quest 2000    Hamilton photo

The second team to go was the team from Kuujuak. They ran strongly in pursuit, but several minutes later returned to the starting line as the driver had been unable to steer them onto the trail. They had run to a nearby iceberg, circled it and returned. They then followed another team out. One by one the teams departed. Some drivers exploded off the line, while others seemed to feel that a few extra seconds spent here getting things off to a good start were in order. One happy driver rode off looking over his shoulder, waving and shouting messages about seeing everyone in two and a half weeks. All too soon the last driver departed and the crowd dispersed. We found Lee, said our good byes and walked back off the ice for the last time this trip. Phillipa invited us in where over coffee we reviewed the events of today and last year's Quest with her, Jayko and Alex.

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