Dog-loving Nunavik village seeks a share of racing glory

Kangiqsujuaq wants to be sled finish line


KANGIQSUJUAQ – During much of the winter, frozen Wakeham Bay is home to the community’s many dog teams, grey and black specks dotting the white background.

When the Air Inuit flight appears overhead each morning, the teams give up an unruly howl all together, a sound heard throughout the village’s homes.

It’s no secret that Kangiqsujuamiut are some of the biggest dog-sledding fans you’ll find in Nunavik.

Four mushers from the community competed in Ivakkak 2010 this past March – the most from any one village – and two of them finished among the top three.

Now Kangiqsujuaq wants to see the finish line of next year’s race on home turf, so its residents can fête their local teams.

“Kangiqsujuamiut really like this race,” said resident Markusie Qissiq. “People get really excited about it.”

“They work hard to make money to be at the finish line, wherever it is,” he said. “We’d like to see the race trail start in Akulivik and end in Kangiqsujuaq.”

So Qissiq, who also sits on the Makivik Corporation’s board of directors, has requested that race organizers consider just that.

Ivakkak, which follows a 500-kilometre route along the region’s coast each year, has so far passed through each of Nunavik’s 14 villages at least once.

A finish line at home means people in Kangiqsujuaq can welcome their local teams as well as host the closing celebrations, Qissiq said.

Makivik, which launched the race in 2000 to promote dog-sledding, won’t make that decision until next winter.

Potential routes for 2011 have not even been discussed yet, spokesperson Kitty Gordon said.

But dog-sledding seems to have grown in popularity across the region since Ivakkak’s inaugural race 10 years ago, she said.

The race has seen a steady increase in competitors, among them youth who are interested in travelling the way their ancestors did.

In the late 1990s, Makivik hired a few Greenlandic mushers and their teams to travel through Nunavik to promote dog-sledding.

When the teams pulled through Kangiqsujuaq, something clicked for Peter Kiatainaq.

“When I saw those guys, I wanted to start a team,” said Kiatainaq, one of the first mushers of a new generation.

Kiatainaq went on to win the first Ivakkak and three more afterwards; he placed third this year. A picture of the musher on the podium hangs over the doorway of the local Northern store.

Kiatainaq’s lead dog – now 11 years old – was raised at home with his family.

He hesitates to admit that he has been an inspiration to the community’s other mushers – but something has to explain the local popularity.

Perhaps the draw is Ivakkak’s top prize – $20,000 is cash and prizes.

The race isn’t televised or broadcast like some more popularized sports, but Ivakkak’s fans still keep up.

During race week, families and friends get news from satellite phone updates, which they share over the FM.

“But we’re the only village who charters a plane every year to come see the finish line,” Kiatainaq said.

Kangiqsujuaq’s mushers – and some others – have also asked Ivakkak coordinators for less interference on the race trail, meaning fewer snowmobiles and less restrictions on where teams can camp.

At Makivik’s last general meeting in April, president Pita Aatami acknowledged those requests but said “We’re not there yet.”

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