From Nov. 16 to 18, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) welcomed dog teamers to Iqaluit for the first ever Qimuksiqtiit Regional Gathering.

The gathering was another step in realizing the goals outlined in the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s (QTC) 2013 final report, Achieving Saimaqatigiingniq, which is defined as “when past opponents get back together, meet in the middle, and are at peace with one another.”

From January 2008 to May 2009, the report gathered testimonies from Inuit in all 13 Baffin communities who lived through the transition to life in permanent settlements between 1950 and 1975, “as well as from their children, who continue to remember the suffering of their parents and other relatives.”

“In community after community that we visited, Inuit told me, often through tears, ‘I remember the day my dogs were shot,’ or ‘I remember when my father’s dogs were killed,’” the report states.

At the Qimuksiqtiit gathering, the first order of business was discussing that troubling past so that the rest of the time could be devoted to the future of using dog teams.

“It’s a lived experience, it’s a lived memory — it wasn’t that long ago that dogs were killed,” said Inukshuk Aksalnik, QTC implementation and programs manager.

The loss of qimmiit has been felt for generations and was a blow to Inuit independence, self-reliance and identity as hunters and providers. Getting a snowmobile to gain access to the land is more accessible for families through harvesters support programs, but this wasn’t the case for most hunters when their dogs were killed.

Revitalization efforts are ongoing, and the Qimmiit Revitalization program under the QTC launched in 2020 as another part of the effort to bring back dog teams to the territory. Though funding was originally slated to financially support teams during the Nunavut Quest, the cancellation of the past two races due to Covid-19 saw QIA direct these funds to the dog teams themselves.

This was appreciated immensely by those attending Qimuksiqtiit, but many stated that costs of living, such as $200 bags of kibble that don’t go far across a large dog team, meant a need for more direct support.

Aksalnik said increasing the grant, which is currently $3,000 for the year, is definitely an option.

Another step toward achieving saimaqatigiingniq came Dec. 2, when QIA and the RCMP unveiled a monument in commemoration of the contributions of Inuit Special Constables and their qimmiit.

QIA president Olayuk Akesuk praised the monument as another step towards reconciliation, as outlined in the Qikiqtani Truth Commission report.

“Since 2010, we have been implementing the recommendations coming from the QTC report,” said Akesuk. “QIA is proud of the work of Inuit carvers in bringing this era to life through their art.”

Former Inuit Special Constable Lew Phillip, speaking in Inuktitut, said he is “hopeful and wants to move forward beyond all the painful experiences that happened in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s when there was the culling of the dogs.”

With these positive steps forward through recognition and the efforts of dedicated individuals, there is certainly hope for these important links to language and culture to be retained and strengthened.

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