Inuit lodge complaint over government dog extermination
KUUJJUAQ- Makivik Corporation and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have lodged official complaints with Canada and Quebec over their governments’ “extermination program” of sled dogs from 1950 to 1975.
The birthright organizations for Inuit in Nunavik and on Baffin Island are asking the federal government to call for a joint public inquiry into the “government-ordered” dog-killing. Makivik wants Quebec to hold a separate provincial inquiry.
Many Inuit elders say their traditional way of life abruptly changed when government officials killed off their sled dogs. The dogs were shot, ostensibly to control canine diseases such as rabies and distemper and also to reduce numbers of loose dogs in fledging communities in the Baffin region and in Northern Quebec.
Until skidoos became common many years later, hunters with no dog teams had trouble providing their families with food, and quickly became dependent on hand-outs and government assistance to meet their daily needs.
In their letter to Robert Nault, the federal minister of Indian and northern affairs, Makivik president Pita Aatami and QIA president Pauloosie Keyootak reject all justifications for the killing of sled dogs.
They maintain Inuit never consented to and weren’t even consulted about “the necessity or appropriateness for such a program.”
And they say the killing of sled dogs was “arbitrary, abusive and at times done in a dangerous manner, and unnecessarily cruel vis-a-vis the Inuit owners of the sled dogs.” They add that Inuit were never compensated for the loss of these animals nor given any help to continue their way of life.
According to Makivik and the QIA, the management of the sled dog problem obviously required a much more delicate and culturally appropriate approach if indeed there was any ‘problem’ to begin with.
Makivik and the QIA gave their jointly signed letter to Nault when he was in Kuujjuaq on March 29. A similar letter, signed only by Aatami and handed to Quebec Native Affairs Minister Guy Chevrette on March 28, asks Quebec’s native affairs office, the Secretariat des Affaires autochtones, to undertake a provincial public inquiry on dog-killing in Nunavik.
Both letters state that Quebec and Canada mis-used the Quebec Agricultural Abuses Act to justify killing sled dogs.
“Unfortunately, this law had never been designed nor adopted for anything more than controlling dogs from running loose or wild in southern agricultural areas. It certainly was never intended for any problems related to sled dogs in the Arctic,” read the letters.
The letters also refer to correspondance from 1958 in which the federal Northern Affairs minister asks Quebec’s Premier, Maurice Duplessis, to amend that law to permit shooting of dogs wandering at large in unorganized terrritory of Quebec at any time of year.
The letters say this correspondence confirms “the failure or inability of government at that time to secure Nunavik Inuit understanding or cooperation in addressing what government perceived to be a dog problem.
Makivik and QIA want input in setting the terms of reference and mandate for the two inquiries as well as money to pay for their participation and research.
Neither the federal nor provincial government has answered the letters yet.
A spokesperson from Chevrette’s office said Makivik’s letter of March 28 was being looked at in detail.
In Ottawa, Nault’s office confirmed he had received the letter and would be responding to it.