The Fan Hitch Volume 8, Number 1, December 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue...

Editorial: Firsts, F.I.D.O.s and Foremosts
F.I.D.O.: Daniel Annanack
F.I.D.O.: Mark Brazeau and Qimmiit Utirtut 
Wolf Problems in Kuujjuaq
Inuit Dogs of Mawson Station
Differences in Mushing: Greenland and Arctic Canada, Part II
Inuit Produced Information Resources
In the News
Book Review: 1000 Days with Sirius
Product Review: 3M™ Precise Skin Stapler
 IMHO: A Time for Action

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Index of back issues by volume number

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Brazeau family, (l-r) Heather, Nancy holding Imaapik, Mark and Andrea
                                      Photo: Brazeau

Mark Brazeau
Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, CANADA

 Qimmiit Utirtut!

Some Background
Eleven-and-a-half-years ago, I accepted a teaching position with the Kativik School Board. That decision moved me from urban Southern Ontario to the small Inuit community of Kangiqsualujjuaq in Nunavik,  the far north of Quebec. The job was supposed to be temporary - one or two years. I just wanted to get some teaching practice under my belt and experience some adventure at the same time. 

There were a lot of "firsts" for me the year I moved to Kangiqsualujjuaq: first time living outside of Southern Ontario, first time on an airplane, first time living in another culture, first time to eat raw meat, first time to drive a snowmobile, first time to see herds of wild caribou, and so on - perhaps too many firsts to list here.  My need for adventure was being fulfilled beyond my expectations! I loved my job, my students, my new friends and my entire lifestyle. Most importantly however, I fell in love with the Arctic. The lure of the North is strong and magical.

"It is, I suppose, a sort of disease—an arctic fever—and yet no microscope can discover its virus and it remains completely unknown to the savants of science.  The arctic fever has no effect on the body but lives only in the mind, filling its victim with a consuming urge to wander again, and forever, through those mighty spaces where the caribou herds flow like rivers over the roll of the tundra…

…The disease is one of great power indeed, for it does not leave such victims as these until life itself leaves them."
Farley Mowat, 1951, People of the Deer.

As one year began to run into another I came to the realization that my stay in the North would be anything but temporary. And as if the love of the North was not enough to keep me there, the love of a beautiful and wonderful Inuk woman would be. I had known Nancy since the first week I arrived in Kangiqsualujjuaq, and we married six years later. Together we are raising our three magnificent children and teaching them about the modern world and their Inuit heritage.

Despite all its wonder, the North is not always a beautiful place. Many Inuit in our region are going through a very rough transitional period - barely holding onto the past and not knowing what to expect of the future. Most of the younger generation have little or no sense of pride in their Inuit heritage. This transitional period is plagued with social problems. Sometimes they are overwhelming for me because they affect my family, friends and students. More than anything I would love to come up with a "cure-all" solution to the community problems, but one does not exist. My experience has taught me, however, that self-esteem is the key to alleviating social problems. The young people need to embrace their culture and their history with pride and when they do they will be ready to handle the future.

Kangiqsualujjuaq                     Photo: Brazeau

During my stay in Kangiqsualujjuaq, I have seen all kinds of dogs, but rarely a team of sled dogs. I was aware of three Inuit mushers, but had never witnessed them driving their dogs. It seemed that almost everyone preferred snowmobiles. There was rarely a second thought given to dog sledding, which looked to be a thing of the past. However, when the Ivakkak dog sled race came to Kangiqsualujjuaq in February 2005, something very special happened. The whole community buzzed with excitement. As the mushers and their dogs arrived by plane, they were greeted by an abundance of smiling faces, from adults and children alike. Half the town drove to the airport each time a new team would arrive. The mushers from around Nunavik became instant celebrities -  superheroes without capes! Children ran behind my truck loaded with sleds and gear asking me where so-and-so was staying and how many dogs he brought with him. I never wanted the enthusiasm to end. 

During the daytime, people went to see the teams of dogs picketed out on the sea ice. On my daughters' requests, I made about three trips per day to see the dogs (my son liked them too, but was too young to make requests). On the morning of the race, the entire community met at the starting line and cheered as each musher began his journey towards Aupaluk. It was heart warming to see the glow on the faces of the children and elders. The children were cheering their heroes and the elders were remembering a lifestyle that had passed. 

Daniel Annank (l) and Mark Brazeau (r)   Photo: Brazeau

It was around that time that Daniel Annanack approached me about finding him some pure Inuit Dogs. This was the spark that lit the fire! Prior to the Ivakkak, I was not even aware that a pure Inuit Dog existed. According to Daniel, there were little or no pure dogs left in our community. Most were mixed with other bloodlines not suited for the harsh northern climate and definitely not suited for pulling a sled. So my search began. After spending some time browsing the internet and a making a few phone calls, I came into contact with Geneviève Montcombroux. She was a drum of gasoline thrown on our fire!  My conversations with Geneviève led to conversations with Allen Gordon. Allen is a friend of mine living in Kuujjuaq who is also interested in the pure Inuit Dog. My conversations with Allen led to a meeting with Daniel. No longer were we just searching for dogs that Daniel could purchase, we were beginning a large-scale project to revive the pure Inuit Dog in our community. Qimmiit Utirtut was born! 

Details of the Project
Qimmiit Utirtut is Inuktitut for "The Dogs Are Back". Re-establishing the pure Inuit Dog in our community would take careful planning as well as funding. We wanted all of the residents to have a fair chance at owning Inuit Dogs and mushing a team. After all, our obvious objective was to re-establish the dog, but our hidden agenda was to revive this integral part of the culture. We felt that the expenses associated with acquiring, shipping and feeding dogs was one that individuals could not burden alone. And, in addition to providing assistance, we needed to regulate the breeding, distribution and ownership of the new dogs. It was the only way we could ensure success. Daniel suggested that pure dogs only be given to mushers and that dogs be repossessed if owners were not providing sufficient exercise and nutrition. The basic seeds had been planted  and our project was beginning to take root, but we needed a detailed plan to allow it to grow. We immediately laid out some goals for our project.

The Goals of Qimmiit Utirtut

• Create a committee to oversee all aspects of the project
• Promote the revival of the pure ISD in the community.
• Attempt to identify possible pure ISDs that are currently in the community.
• Work with the Municipal Council and By-law Officer to control the dog population in the community.
• Work with regional and local organizations to establish a Musher Support Program.
• Acquire a variety of pure ISDs from different bloodlines, breed them, and place them with owners.

The Qimmiit Utirtut Committee has only three administrators, whose primary concern was to win the support of the community and the organizations that govern it. Our first step was to meet with the Municipal Council. Their support was overwhelming. The meeting went much longer than planned as Elders blissfully shared stories of "the good old days". One of the Elders even took the time to give me a brief lesson on how to sterilize male dogs. Following our meeting, we felt confident that everything would go ahead as planned. However, nothing in life ever goes as planned. Our biggest setback was that a few regional organizations rejected our funding requests. It was their belief that individuals should assume the costs related to dog sledding because they were the owners of the dogs. 

Two students showing the skin of the seal--it is cut in short 
tubes to make tug lines for the sled              Photo: Brazeau

Promoting the project went better than expected. Daniel and I hosted a radio show over the local FM station during lunch one afternoon. While some residents had reservations and worries about increasing the already large population of stray dogs, most residents applauded our efforts. 

In an effort to really kick-start the project, we had planned to hold a celebration on the day when our new Inuit Dogs would arrive. We would play games and give t-shirts as prizes. Unfortunately our celebration had to be downsized due to a lack of funding. 

Promoting Qimmiit Utirtut at the regional level was done through the Nunatsiaq News. Jane George wrote a wonderful article. It was a breath of fresh air amidst all the news related to the dog slaughter investigation. 

Another aspect of the project was to identify dogs in our community that might be pure. It would be interesting to discover at least a few pure dogs that could be used for breeding. For some dogs, their impurity is obvious. But for others, their genetics are more of a mystery. We considered four different ways to identify pure dogs. First, we requested historical photos depicting Inuit Dogs from the Avataq Cultural Institute so we could make a visual comparison. Second, we discussed (formally and informally) with elders their recollections of pure dogs. Third, we planned to collect detailed measurements and photos of questionable dogs to share with ISD experts and breeders. Fourth, for the questionable dogs, we planned to have some genetic testing done. So far, we have only been able to collect information from elders, but are eagerly awaiting photos requested from Avataq.

An ongoing problem with the existing dog population in our community is that many dogs roam freely, willing and able to reproduce. Besides the obvious danger to people, many other issues exist: dogs fight and injure one another, they steal meat and fish, they breed indiscriminately, and they breed often. Qimmiit Utirtut set goals to assist with the problem of strays. First, we put pressure on the local by-law officer to convince residents to chain or pen their dogs. In addition, we planned to educate the community and school populations about the importance of responsible dog ownership. Last, we attempted (without success so far) to arrange for a veterinary clinic to visit the community and sterilize dogs at the owners’ request. This service was to be sponsored by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. We only needed to arrange for the travel and accommodations. Once again, however, funding issues prevented us from achieving this objective. 

We believe that it is not sufficient to simply repopulate the community with pure Inuit Dogs. We really want to encourage people to embrace their culture and return to mushing, even as a hobby. However, many families are on social assistance and would not be able to afford a team of dogs. The families that do have jobs work five days a week and weekend hunters do not spend enough time on the land to provide for both their families and dogs. An obvious solution seemed to be a Musher Support Program so that mushers could purchase dog food, pens, chains and other hardware at a reduced price. The local Landholding Corporation provided money to buy and transport high quality dog food that is sold to mushers at half the cost. The food is provided only to mushers with the understanding that it supplements a diet of country food, for times when hunting and fishing are slow.

The local Hunter Support organization purchased chains and other hardware. As with the food, these items are available to mushers at half the price. Limited funding this year prevented us from being able to purchase fencing for the mushers. In addition to food and materials, the Musher Support program intended to develop workshops where elders work with young mushers to provide knowledge on traditional mushing and constructing a traditional sled.

The new dogs arrive from Minnesota    Photo: Brazeau

The New Puppies
By far, the most exciting aspect of Qimmiit Utirtut is finding and obtaining pure Inuit Dogs. I came into contact with Linda Fredericksen who planned to breed one of her dogs. Over many months, Linda and I had exchanged almost 200 emails! It was obvious she was a person who really cared for her dogs, the breed, the Inuit people and our entire project. We received three beautiful ISD puppies, two females and a male. The dogs were transported from Minnesota to Kangiqsualujjuaq on three different airlines. All of the flights, including the airline crates, were paid for by the Makivik Corporation.

The new puppies created much excitement among the residents of the community. Daniel has had many visitors come by to examine the new dogs and give their opinions. Some debated that the ears were somewhat long while others thought the legs were a bit tall. However, the one thing that everyone agreed on was that the tail curled up just the way they remembered it should, something rarely seen within our current dog population.

Soon after, Allen Gordon contacted me. His pure Inuit Dogs successfully produced a litter of pups and he had one female not yet placed. Allen had had many requests for the puppy, but wanted to make sure she was placed with an owner who would make her part of a sled dog team, so he sent the pup to us. 

The Future
We now have four Inuit Dogs from two different bloodlines, enough to get started.  But we will not stop there. We want to find more dogs, secure more funding, and provide more support to the mushers. At this point in time, it is hard for us to determine how large our project will grow. For now we will go one day at a time.

Daniel has already received many requests from residents, over half from young people who are interested in mushing, to receive dogs when we begin the breeding program. Things are heading in the right direction.

As for me, I'm about to stumble upon another "first" in my life. I do not own a dog and have never mushed a team, but I soon will.  I have three children with Inuit blood in their veins. I feel an interest and obligation to teach them how their grandparents and great grandparents lived. By understanding and respecting their past, my kids will be better equipped to handle the future. 

Editor's note: Readers who wish to support Qimmiit Utirtut in any way are encouraged to do so. Please contact Mark Brazeau at (best way to reach him), or Box 151, Kangiqsualujjuaq, QC, J0M 1N0, Canada; phone: 819 337-5250

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