In the spirit of Rasmussen: dog-team tour unites Inuit

Two Greenlandic dog-team trekkers are building bridges between Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit.


Nunatsiaq News

MONTREAL — Two Greenlanders are invoking the spirit of Knud Rasmussen as they tour through Nunavik and Nunavut by dog team in a gesture of Inuit solidarity.

Ono Fleischer, 49, and Mathias Ingemann, 36, left Kuujjuaq on January 10.

They’re using 28 Greenlandic dogs to pull two sledges that First Air flew to Canada for them.

The outfitters plan to end their Nunavik visit in Puvirnituq. They’ll then fly across the Hudson Bay to Arviat and continue by dog team through communities in the Keewatin and South Baffin.

Their 4800-kilometre trek is expected to end in Iqaluit in early April.

This trip, called the “Great Sledge Journey III” or “Qimusseq,” is inspired by the travels of Greenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933).

Unlike most Arctic explorers, whose work was aimed at serving the economic and political interests of colonizing Europeans, Rasmussen used his journeys to gain knowledge about Inuit culture and language.

The collections of stories and legends that Rasmussen gathered on his journeys are now classics of written Inuit culture.

That’s why the expedition’s many sponsors include the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Makivik Corporation.

The Greenlanders, who are due to arrive in Puvirnituq sometime this week, have already made their way up the Ungava Bay coast.

And “happiness” is how Fleischer summed up his reaction to the warm welcome that he and Ingemann received at their first stop in Tasiujaq.

In Salluit last week

When the two Greenlanders pulled into Salluit on Friday, February 6, across the sea ice, one younger resident said it was like “a dream” to see the teams and their drivers dressed in traditional Greenlandic polar bear fur outfits. Elders were thrilled.

In each community they have visited so far, people have turned out to witness the now-rare arrival of dog teams.

“We haven’t has a real working dog team for a long time,” says Salluit resident Josepi Padlayat, who helped organize his community’s welcome to the visiting Greenlanders.

Padlayat says many people in Salluit were eager to meet the visitors. Some could remember sitting in snow houses, back in the 1950’s, listening to Greenlandic radio transmissions.

The two dog teamers and their expedition coordinator, Karo Thomsen, also met with community members to talk about Greenland.

Fleischer and Ingemann, who had admired parkas at the local cooperative, were later delighted to get Nunavik-style parkas as a present from the community. Thomsen received an ulu.

Thomsen, the first Greenlandic woman to cross the icecap on skis, is coordinating the “Great Sledge Journey.”

She’s also writing a children’s book about the journey as seen through the eyes of Avva, a Greenlandic sled dog.

Thomsen says that Nunavik is a big change from her home town, Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, which now has a population of about 15,000. In Nuuk, the weather is warmer and the sea never freezes.

And, says Thomsen, families in Nuuk are smaller and more isolated.

“It’s really fantastic here,” she says. “When you go to a different community and you stay with people you’ve never met, but it’s like being home. It’s really hard to leave the community.”

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