The Fan Hitch Volume 8, Number 3, June 2006

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue...

Editorial: Diversity with a Common Interest
FIDO: John Senter
Developing a Culture of Mushers
The Inuit Sled Dog Registry
Arctic Inuit Sled Dogs: Life in Retirement
Inuit Dog Thesis Update
In the News
Fan Mail
Kennel Tip: Taking the Heat Off
Book Review: The Lost Men
 IMHO: Filling the Woodshed

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at:

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This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.

Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik’s Ulluriaq School grade 3 students going to 
Old Woman's Lake by dog team               Photo: D. Annanack

Filling the Woodshed

by Mark Hamilton

Okay, so maybe the way my mind works is a little odd, but we were putting up the last of next season's firewood the other day and it made me mindful of the current status of the Inuit Sled Dog. But maybe that thought isn't quite as strange as it seems. Around here, when you're putting up firewood in June, you're working with an eye to the future. You receive no immediate gratification, only the satisfaction of knowing that you'll be ready when the need arrives. 

While the sum of the work represented in filling a woodshed is enormous, all the individual tasks it involves can be accomplished in small segments, at your own pace. You have the option of working yourself to death, or working at a more reasonable rate of your choosing. Our own preference is to fell the trees, section them into double length pieces and stack them near the woodshed in the fall. During the winter, once the woodshed is half empty, we start cutting next season's firewood to stove-lengths, splitting and stacking it in the empty side of the woodshed. Usually this occurs sometime in February.

We find splitting firewood in February to be fun. There are no concerns over hurrying up the pace to get it done in time for use, and there are no black flies or mosquitoes to bother you. It's a "warm" activity, but if you dress appropriately you needn't break a sweat. It seems like we never actually work at it for more than about an hour-and-a-half at a time, but very quickly the open side of the woodshed is filled. Then we have to wait for the other side to be empty, at the end of the heating season, before we can split and stack the balance of the next season's firewood.

Each year we put up more firewood than we did the previous year, yet the task never seems to get any bigger nor does it overwhelm us. Maybe that's because we never actually see an empty woodshed. With the system we use the woodshed is never less then about half-full. 

It's time to shift my focus to Inuit Dogs. We have in the past spoken about what needs to occur for the Inuit Dog for it to thrive once again. One of the most essential requirements is for the dogs to "have a place" in the Arctic. Bill Carpenter and John McGrath put the same thought into different words by saying, "The future of the dogs is in the Arctic". In this issue of The Fan Hitch, you've probably already read Mark Brazeau's update on the Qimmiit Utirtut project and his reference to the need to reestablish the culture of mushing. Further, he states that even if every family in Kangiqsualujjuaq had pure ISDs staked out behind their house, he'd consider the project a failure if nobody mushed them.

When we talk about the need for the dogs to "have a place" in the Arctic or that their future "is in the Arctic" we are talking in shorthand. What we're saying is "The ISD must have a place as a working sled dog in modern Inuit culture for the them to have any real future at all." Mere survival as a living relic should not be identified or seen as a "future" for any living thing.

So where it exists in the Canadian Arctic, the culture of mushing needs to be nourished. Where it no longer exists, it needs to be established. However, doing this work isn't like buying a piece of land and building a convenience store. Establishing or nourishing the culture of mushing can only happen by winning the hearts and minds of the people who will be involved. That's where projects like Qimmiit Utirtut and Allen Gordon's effort at building a team of pure Inuit Dogs in a community still involved in mushing, but which has moved away from the pure ISD, become so important. They represent local efforts by local people based on local interests.  Each of these projects, in its broad form, is a template for other people and other communities to use and follow as suits their own interests. And support for these efforts to help keep the dogs alive is as important as the efforts themselves. 

Ultimately, the sum of the work represented in preserving the pure, working Inuit Sled Dog is enormous. But just like filling that woodshed, the individual tasks involved need not overwhelm us. They can be addressed in smaller, more manageable segments at our own pace. The important thing is to "keep chipping away at the pile."

Allen Gordon driving his team into the tiny village of
Tasiujaq, Nunavik April, 2006        Photo: Slater

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