Dog sledding not just a thing of the past

Dog teams in Kuujjuaq herald mushing revival, but Inuit sled dogs still scarce

By JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ — In the past, dog teams were a common sight in Kuujjuaq, but running a team in Nunavik’s largest community is now an expensive hobby: the dogs need plenty of attention and food, which, in Kuujjuaq, used to be fish.

“It’s a lot of work, time and money today. Most of us mushers, we can’t be netting out on the ice during the week because we’re working,” says Allen Gordon.

Gordon, who only recently started building his team, has 18 dogs, including several puppies. He keeps the dogs chained about two kilometers from Kuujjuaq, off the road to Stewart Lake, where he drives up and sees them as often as possible.

As his truck approaches the dogs, they begin to yelp and howl: Gordon is a popular visitor because he doles out affection, dog food and hunks of country food.

The dogs are eager to get out and run, but there’s not much snow and it’s bitterly cold. A good blizzard with a lot of snow is just what they would like to see.

Gordon wants to some day have a team of all Inuit dogs.

“A lot of the Inuit dogs are outside the North,” Gordon said. “They’re endangered and very low in number.”

So Gordon has imported some of his dogs from Nunavut and the United States to complement what he calls his “Nunaskis” — or northern-type huskies.

“Nunavik had its own purebreds — but from the culling, snowmobiles and disease, they were wiped out by the 1970s.”

Real Inuit dogs have short, compact bodies, with curled tails, big feet and a wide chest. They never have blue eyes.

“They’re not known for their speed, but they’re adapted to the cold. They’ll often pick the worst spots to sleep in during the winter,” Gordon says.

To revive this hardy breed, Gordon would like to have a breeding kennel for Nunavik Inuit dogs in the region.

When he was a child, Gordon remembers many Kuujjuamiut owned dog teams. In fact, he still carries a photo of his beloved Inuit dog Brownie, who used to take him across the ice when he was younger.

He’d like to pass on this love of dogs and the pleasure of running dogs to his kids. “There’s a lot of stress relief. It just wipes out your mind.”

Gordon would also like to see elders interviewed so their knowledge about dogs isn’t lost.

“When another older person goes, that knowledge goes with him,” Gordon says.

But the close and positive relationship Inuit used to have with dogs isn’t always possible now. In Kuujjuaq, all dogs must be tied up and often they don’t get the training, exercise or respect they need.

A few months ago, a dog that was tied up behind a neighbour’s house attacked Gordon’s son, and he’s still traumatized by the encounter.

Gordon, who is also the executive director of Nunavik Tourism, credits Makivik Corporation for promoting a renewal of interest in dog-teaming in Kuujjuaq, where there are now more than six dog teams, and throughout Nunavik.

Since 2001, Makivik has spearheaded the annual Ivakkak dog race. This year’s race is set to start on Feb. 28 from Kangiqsualujjuaq.

Dog teams in Ivakkak 2005 will run along the Ungava Bay coast through Kuujjuaq and Tasiujaq, before reaching the finish line in Aupaluk, 400 kilometers away.

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