The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) welcomed dog teamers from across Qikiqtani at the first ever Qimuksiqtiit Regional Gathering, which took place in Iqaluit from Nov. 16 to 18.
From the high Arctic to south Baffin, Inuit dog mushers gathered at the Frobisher Inn to discuss bringing dog teaming back to the territory after facing numerous hardships over the past seven decades.
One of the more notable of the topics raised early on were the dog slaughters of the 1950s to the 1970s, in which the RCMP killed hundreds of sled dogs in the eastern Arctic in order to force Inuit into the communities they largely live in today.
That was the first order of the day for Qimuksiqtiit Gathering, said QIA’s director of social policy, Hagar Idlout-Sudlovenick.
“Every community, it always comes up. We wanted to address that right away, to get it dealt with so we can move on to less heavier topics and look more into the future. Dog teaming, what that is going to look like,” said Idlout-Sudlovenick.“We want to know the best way we can help dog team owners.”
Mental health supports provided by Tukisigiarvik for dog teamers were available says Inukshuk Aksalnik, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC) implementation and programs manager, given many are still around to remember the dog slaughter.
“It’s a lived experience, it’s a lived memory, it wasn’t that long ago that dogs were killed,” said Aksalnik.
The Qimmiit Revitalization program under the QTC was also launched as another part of the effort to bring back dog teams to the territory. Originally started to financially support teams during the Nunavut Quest, Covid-19 has forced QIA to direct these funds to the dog teams themselves.
While the support has significantly helped Qikiqtani dog teams, the cost of living in Nunavut has led QIA to look into increasing the support they give to dog teamers, something that was made clear by those attending Qimuksiqtiit.
“The overall messaging I heard was the Qimuksiqtiit project that we have, the $3,000 grant we have for dog teamers is super-helpful, but it’s not enough. A bag of kibble in Arctic Bay is close to $200, if you have a team of 16 (dogs), then that can add up very quickly,” said Aksalnik, so increasing the amount of money the grant gives out is definitely an option looking forward, she adds.
In areas where there are more seals available, there was discussion on possibly supporting hunters for a more readily available supply of dog food in communities which feed their dogs country food instead of kibble.
“If it’s working then why change it? Some communities have a lot more seals so they can work with local hunters, others may not have as big a seal population,” Idlout-Sudlovenick said, saying they could work with each community to see what works best for them.
Vaccine support for dogs was another topic dog teamers were also interested in getting, either through a travelling veterinarian program or by shipping the vaccines up directly to the teams, “there’s a need and a want for vaccine support,” said Aksalnik.
Revitalizing dog teaming in Nunavut is important to language revitalization as well, often connecting into the language, says Idlout-Sudlovenick.
“A lot of (the Inuktitut language) is connected to the environment. The cultural activities we do like (dog teaming), there’s different terms for everything … like for the harnesses. It’s not just about revitalizing dog teams but also connects with language and it also connects with culture,” said Idlout-Sudlovenick.
Another takeaway from Qimuksiqtiit was getting youth interested in becoming dog mushers.
“Elders are always open to teaching, the youth have to not be so shy and just go ask,” said Aksalnik.
While QIA doesn’t plan to make this an annual gathering they hope to keep hosting Qimuksiqtiit at least every two or three years. This first gathering, they say, has given a much more clear approach on how to help out Qikiqtani dog teams.