The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 2, March 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Sirius Patrol, Canadian Style
F.I.D.O.: Allen Gordon
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part I
Pregnancy, Whelping and Pup Development in the ISD, Part II
Fan Mail
Tip for the Trail: Building a Dog Ramp
In the News
Behavior Notebook
Janice Howls: Transition to Primitive
 IMHO: Change

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

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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The following Brief is being presented in three parts. The second and third installments will appear in the June and September 2005 issues of The Fan Hitch. Please refer to "In the News" for additional information on this subject. - Ed.


To the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs for the Government of Canada 
To the Ministre délégué aux Affaires autochtones for the Government of Québec

Regarding the Slaughtering of Nunavik "Qimmiit" (Inuit Dogs) 
from the mid-1950s  to the late 1960s

(Photo: Masiu Ningiuruvik, circa 1960)
From the private collection of Bernard Saladin d’Anglure,
held in the Avataq Cultural Institute's archives


Makivik Corporation
January, 2005

This Submission is made on a without prejudice basis and under reserve of all the legal and other rights and recourses in this matter available to the Inuit of Québec.


I. Introduction 

 A.   The Nunavik Territory and its inhabitants
 B.  Makivik Corporation

II. Nunavik Qimmiit Killings

 A.   Qimmiit
  1.  Physical description and attributes 
  2.  Importance of Nunavik Qimmiit 

 B.   Historical Context

[Coming in Parts II and III]

 C. Government Activities Regarding Nunavik Qimmiit 
  1.  Disease Control 
  2.  Wandering Dogs 

 D. The Killings - Testimonies by Nunavik Inuit 

 E.   Consequences 

III. Government's Responsibility for the Nunavik Qimmiit 
 Killings and Consequences 

IV. Demands 

V. Annexes 


According to the Inuit of Nunavik, Northern Québec, a series of "Qimmik" (Inuit dog) slaughters were undertaken or ordered to be undertaken by Canada and Québec government officials or their representatives in several Nunavik communities during the time period spanning from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s.  They claim that government officials and their representatives did not hold effective consultation with Nunavik Inuit, nor seek nor obtain their consent to the slaughters.  Nunavik Inuit seek an acknowledgement of these events and remedial measures. 

The importance of the sled dog to Inuit cannot be overstated.  The actual dog killings and their dramatic consequences on Inuit and their culture will be described in the present brief, primarily through the testimonies of elders from Nunavik who experienced or witnessed the loss of the dogs.  These accounts were compiled by interviewers mandated by Makivik Corporation, principally during the years 1999 and 2000.  Quotes from these interviews, all translated from Inuktitut, will often be inserted into the body of the text. 

The governments' rationale for implementing measures that led to the killings seems to have been based on a concern for health and public safety.  However, the governments were negligent in the manner in which they approached what they considered to be a problem with Qimmiit in Nunavik communities and negligent in the devise and implementation of their solutions. 

In March 2000, Makivik Corporation formulated a request to the Québec government for a public inquiry to be undertaken into the dog killings in Nunavik during the period 1950-1975.1  Also in March 2000 Makivik Corporation, in collaboration with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, made a similar request to the Federal government.2  Neither the Québec government3 nor the Canadian government4 at that time accepted Makivik's request. 

Makivik Corporation is once again requesting that a public inquiry be undertaken. 

A.  The Nunavik Territory and its inhabitants

The vast territory of Quebec north of the 55th parallel, now known as Nunavik, covers more than 560,000 square kilometres. The Inuit have inhabited Nunavik for at least 4,000 years.  Through their knowledge of the land, Inuit developed skills and technology uniquely adapted to one of the harshest and most demanding environments on earth. 

Approximately ten thousand (10,000) Inuit reside in the fifteen (15) Nunavik communities today. 

B.  Makivik Corporation

Makivik Corporation was created in 1978 pursuant to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA).  Makivik is the recognized Inuit Party to this Agreement.  A not for profit corporation, its central mandate is the protection of the integrity of the JBNQA and it focuses on the political, social, and economic development of the Nunavik region.  The members of the Makivik Board of Directors include sixteen (16) community representatives and five (5) Executive Directors universally elected by the Inuit residents of Nunavik.


A.  Qimmiit

1.  Physical description and attributes

"The Eskimo dog has the persistence and tenacity of the wild animal, and at the same time the domestic dog's admirable devotion to its master.  It is the wildest breath of Nature, and the warmest breath of civilization." (Otto Svendrup, 1904 New Lands, Vol. 1, p. 18)

The Qimmik, also know as the Inuit dog, Eskimo dog and Husky dog, is the last remaining aboriginal dog of the Americas.5  It is remarkably adapted to life in the arctic climate and has an observable desire to pull in harness.6  It is a deeply ingrained behavioural trait of the Inuit dog breed and dogs have been known to pull without quitting until they died in their harnesses. 

The characteristics of a pure bred Qimmik, as described in the Ivakkak website7, include a robust and muscular body, with a slightly long and straight back, stumpy neck, strong, deep, broad thorax and sturdy legs.  It has a wide head with a dome-shaped skull, a square pointed muzzle, short, erect, triangular-shaped ears and almond-shaped generally brown eyes.  The tail is bushy and curls up just above the small of the back.  Its fur is thick, straight and long or semi-long.  Qimmiit weigh 25 to 50 kg and measure at least 55 to 60 centimetres from the withers.

2. Importance of Nunavik Qimmiit

"In the past, a man without dogs wasn't a man" (Paulusie Weetaluktuk, Inukjuak)

Until the 1940s and 1950s, the need to search for food and to follow the resources on the land meant that Inuit led a nomadic existence.  Dog teams were central to the lives of Inuit.  Inuit depended on the Qimmiit to survive.  They were the only means of transportation.  They were also the key element in hunting practices (for example, dogs would find seal breathing holes for hunters).  Dogs could find their way home in a storm.  They have been known to rescue the lives of people.  Even when they died, dogs had their importance.  Inuit would make use of the flesh to feed the other dogs and would use the fur for parka hoods.  In periods of starvation the dogs could be eaten to enable families to survive.  The dogs were not simply companion animals; they were an essential means of survival.

"The relationship between the Qimmiit and Inuit could be described as symbiotic.  One could not have survived without the other."  (Robbie Watt, Kuujjuaq)

"The Qimmiit (...) were survival tools.  In a blizzard, where you can't see anything, they could bring their master home.  They are the real reason why people survived (...) the Qimmiit were the first ones to realize when the ice was dangerous, the first ones to recognize danger...the Qimmiit are the reason why I am alive today." (Mark Uninnak, Aupaluk)

"My grandmother often told me that I am still alive today because of our Qimmiit". (Paulusie Cookie, Umiujaq)

"They were the most important resource in our life... they were our basic tools for living.  The most important things in our lives were the dog teams and qajaks; they were all we used to hunt for food, in those days." (Naala Nappaaluk, Kangiqsujuaq)

"... during spring time if the Qimmiit were to fall in the water while travelling on ice they would simply get back up on the ice.  They would also know where to travel even during whiteout storms when we did not know where we were heading.  The Qimmiit could even travel at night and find the trail without our guidance." (Charlie Okpik, Quaqtaq)

"They were the most important part of our lives.  We would become anxious if we were running out of Qimmiit and when their food supplies would run low..."   (David Oovaut, Quaqtaq)

"The Inuit and Qimmiit were very knowledgeable of the land and never got lost even when they travelled everywhere (...) They were our only means of transportation, I don't think anyone would have survived without the use of dog teams. They were used for long distance travel and hunting. Even when the Inuit were starving, they used to survive by eating their dogs (...) We used them for trapping, hunting, to transport our belongings to shore when we had to travel by qayak in the spring…I've seen a few summer dogs .. which they used for caribou hunting during summertime." (Issacie Padlayat, Salluit)

" time Juugini was out hunting at the open sea during winter and he fell in the water and was drowning and the only help he got was from a dog.  As he was drowning, his own dog saved him (…) during a starvation period, Juugini was very hungry and freezing and (…) he killed one dog and ate it." (Mary Irraju Anugaaq Sr., Kangiqsujuaq)

"They were the most treasured possessions." (Eva Ilimasaut, Kangiqsujuaq)

Qimmiit were so important that Inuit would sometimes prioritize feeding the dogs to feeding their families.  There was also a spiritual dimension to the relationship.  For example, there was a belief that dogs would become sick so that humans would remain healthy; that the Qimmiit would take on diseases to protect humans.

The historical importance of the dog to Inuit cannot be overstated.  According to Ken MacRury who conducted a master's thesis on the subject of the Qimmik:

"The association of the Inuit and their dogs was an enduring and significant aspect of life in the Arctic region for over a thousand years.  The one was dependent upon the other for their mutual existence in an extreme environment."8

Mr. MacRury postulates that the domestic Qimmik was present in the Arctic from the earliest occupancy of hunting humans9 and he adeptly summarized the importance of the Qimmiit as follows: 

"The Inuit dog is foremost a draught animal used by the Inuit in their long distance hunting expeditions and when moving from one hunting location to another.  The dogs are also companions and assistants essential to the Inuit in the hunting of seal, polar bear and muskox.  The Inuit dog, in times of general starvation, was also eaten by its owners.  The fur of the Inuit dog was used for clothing..."10

In an article entitled "The dogs of the Inuit: companions in survival", Lynn Peplinski, at one time Manager of the Iqaluit Research Centre, Science Institute of the Northwest Territories, described the value of the Qimmiit.

"With the ability to travel being central to the successful survival of northern cultures, the value of the working dog is immeasurable. As hunting companion, pack and draught animal, the Inuit dog (Canis familiaris borealis) enhanced the ability of the Inuit and their ancestors to move from place to place, toting their few belongings, in the constant search for game. 

While hunting with its master on the vast expanse of sea ice, the Inuit dog's superior olfactory sense would allow it to sniff out the seal's breathing hole (alluk), an opening a few centimetres in diameter on the surface of the ice concealing an inverted funnel reaching several feet across at its base. The breathing hole, which is gnawed and scratched out by the seal through several feet of ice, is detectable only by a slightly protruding mound on the surface of the sea ice. Once an "active" alluk was located, the hunter might stoop for hours, harpoon at the ready, in anticipation of the return of the seal.

As a hunting companion, the Inuit dog's predatory skills have helped stack the odds of locating and retrieving game in the hunters' favour. This, in a harsh environment where animals were almost the sole source of all that was needed to sustain life."11

Qimmiit were at one time indispensable to anyone wishing to travel in the North.  The RCMP themselves used Qimmiit in their patrols.  Qimmiit were also invaluable to successful early Arctic and Antarctic exploration and scientific investigation.  Captain R.E. Peary, who claimed attainment of the North Pole in 1909, depended on the Qimmiit as his means of transport.  He credited discovery of the North Pole to the dogs: " is an absolute certainty that it [the North Pole] would still be undiscovered but for the Eskimo dog to furnish traction power for our sledges ... enabling us to carry supplies where nothing else could carry them".12  Roald Amundsen, whose party was the first to attain the South Pole in 1911, fully acknowledged the importance of Qimmiit as a key element in the success of this achievement. 

B. Historical Context

Administration of Nunavik

The Supreme Court decision, Re Eskimo ([1939] S.C.R. 104), confirmed the Federal Government's responsibility towards Inuit.  Although Nunavik has been part of the territory of Quebec since the coming into force of the Québec Boundaries Extension Act of 1912, the federal government administered this portion of the province exclusively from the time it became active in northern Canada, around the end of the Second World War, until the 1960s. 

During the time it decided to administer Nunavik, the Federal government provided services such as health, education and welfare.  The first Federal Day Schools, for example, were opened in 1949 and the RCMP established its first Nunavik detachment at Port Harrison (now Inukjuak) in 1936 and a second one at Fort Chimo (now Kuujjuaq) in 1942.  Federal administrators were later posted in other Nunavik settlements. 

In addition to crime-related work, which represented a small portion of their actual duties, RCMP officers accomplished many administrative functions, such as the distribution of welfare, the keeping of vital statistics and the carrying out of an annual dog vaccination program. 

Until 1960, Québec assumed no responsibility for the Inuit of Nunavik.  In 1960, however, Québec's newly elected Liberal government's agenda included the development of Nunavik's natural resources. In the 1960s and 1970s, the provincial and federal governments undertook ongoing negotiations and the Québec Government gradually assumed responsibility for the various government services in Nunavik.13

In 1960, the Quebec police force established detachments in two settlements and the RCMP were withdrawn.14 The Quebec police did not take on many of the social tasks previously performed by the RCMP and appear to have intended to take over policing activities only.15

In 1962, Premier Lesage wrote the first official correspondence regarding Québec's intention to assume responsibility for administering Northern Québec to Prime Minister Diefenbaker.16 In 1963, the first provincial school in Nunavik opened.  Also in 1963, the Direction Générale du Nouveau-Québec was established. 

As the two levels of government were working out their respective responsibilities over Nunavik, the Inuit themselves were beginning the uphill battle to regain control of their own destiny.  These parallel developments culminated in 1975 with the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which gave the Inuit extensive responsibilities in the areas of economic and social development, education, the environment, and territorial management.

Settlement in permanent communities

The establishment of schools and nursing stations had an enormous effect on the Inuit way of life and accelerated the transition from a nomadic to a settled existence.  School attendance by children was a pre-requisite for Inuit to receive family allowance and welfare payments.17

"A lot of our culture started changing gradually, as the education buildings and teachers started arriving.  During the 1960s we were first told that we should no longer go camping in order to get schooling and as we were told that, we started to reside in one place, when we were from all over the place."  (Luukasi Nappaaluk, Kangiqsujuaq)

Between 1953 and 1957, the Canadian Government relocated several individual Inuit and families from the vicinity of Inukjuak, Québec, to Resolute Bay and Craig Harbour/Grise Fiord.  The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, in its report on the High Arctic Relocation concluded that "the relocation took place at a time when the government was concerned about de facto Canadian sovereignty arising from the presence of the United States in the Arctic (...)  The weight of the evidence points to sovereignty as a material consideration in the relocation decision, although the primary concerns were social and economic."18

Introduction of the Snowmobile

The snowmobile was slowly introduced in Nunavik over a period of several years in the 1960s and early 1970s.  There was, in most cases, a lapse of time during which hunters were immobilized due to the loss of their dogs (pursuant to the killings) and to the inaccessibility of snowmobiles.

Despite acknowledging the usefulness of snowmobiles, nearly everyone interviewed noted its unreliability, expense and the advantages of dog team travel over snowmobile travel. 

There is some evidence to suggest that the governments perceived dogs as competing with Inuit for food resources.  The Federal Government, in collaboration with the Humane Society, initiated distribution of dog food to several communities in the former NWT and in Nunavik around the years 1965-1966.  The project was entitled "Operation Artichow".19

Also in 1965, the Federal Government commissioned a study by Dr. Milton Freeman on the role of the sled dog in the changing economy of the population of the eastern Arctic.20  In his argument for the need for a study of working dogs, Mr. G.W. Rowley noted two points that reflect government's concerns with the dogs at the time: (1) the dogs were in competition with the Inuit for food resources; and (2) the important and increasing cost of the rabies vaccination program.  He stated: "Working dogs depend on just the same resources as the Eskimos.  There are more dogs than Eskimos, and they consume a greater quantity of food.  They are therefore in direct competition with the Eskimos for the limited renewable resources of the country. (…) Rabies is very common among Eskimo dogs and they are carriers of other diseases.  This necessitates a prophylactic program costing nearly $20,000 in the past year and covering only Northern Quebec and Baffin Island.  The cost will increase as the program is extended."  It is significant that he also noted that no data existed on how many "unnecessary dogs" were in the North.21

In 1966, despite Mr. Rowley's recommendation for continued funding22, the government seems to have decided to the contrary and without financing, Milton Freeman was unable to complete the originally requested study.23

 1 Letter from Pita Aatami, President, Makivik Corporation, to The Honourable Guy Chevrette, Ministre délégué aux Affaires autochtones, Gouvernement du Québec (March 28 2000).
 2 Letter from Pita Aatami, President, Makivik Corporation and Pauloosie Keyootak, President, Qikiqtani Inuit Association, to The Honourable Robert Nault, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada (March 29 2000).
 3 Letter from Guy Chevrette, ministre délégué aux Affaires autochtones, Gouvernement du Québec to Pita Aatami, President, Makivik Corporation dated June 21 2000 and letter from Serge Ménard, ministre de la Sécurité publique to Pita Aatami, President, Makivik Corporation dated (September 5 2000).
 4 Letter from Lawrence MacAulay, Solicitor General of Canada to Pita Aatami, President, Makivik Corporation and Pauloosie Keyootak, President, Qikiqtani Inuit Association, (December 1 2000).
 5 Ian Kenneth MacRury, The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History , Master of Philosophy in Polar Studies thesis, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge (1991) at p. 1.
 6Ibid at p. 24
 7 Ivakkak website:
 8 MacRury, supra, note 5 at p. 40
 9Ibid. at p. 46
10 Ibid at p. 39
11 Peplinski, Lynn, The dogs of the Inuit: companions in survival,
12 Peary, R.E. Secrets of polar travel, The Centory Co., New York (1917) at p. 196, as quoted in MacRury, supra, note 9 at p. 41.
13 See, for example, Draft Memorandum to Cabinet, 1964, presented by Arthur Laing, the Minister of Northern Affairs and National resources; Memo from G.W.Rowley, Secretary, ACND, to Deputy Minister ACND (February 28 1962) relating a conversation with Eric Gourdeau, Deputy Director of Planning in the Natural Resources Department (Québec) regarding the transition of authority. 
14 Ibid, Draft Memorandum to Cabinet, 1964.
15 Ibid
16 Letter from Premier Jean Lesage to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (December 27 1962).
17 Kativik School Board internet site:
18 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, "Shedding New Light on the Relocation: Summary of the Commission's Conclusions"  (1994).
19 Letter from A. Stevenson, Administrator of the Arctic to Mr. Hughes, Ontario Humane Society (January 25 1966).
20 Letter from G.W. Rowley to Mr. Gordon (March 5 1965).
21 Ibid.
22 Letter from G.W. Rowley to Mr. Gordon (August 19 1966).
23 Verbal information provided by Mr. Milton Freeman (December 2002).

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