Minnesota imports help teachers revive pure sled dogs
When you get angry at mixed breeds “they get mad at you,” musher says
Two teachers at Kangiqsualujjuaq’s Ulluriaq School are trying to re-establish the pure Inuit sled dog breed through a project called Qimmiit Utirtut: the dogs are back!
Last week, the project took off as Daniel Annanack and Mark Brazeau welcomed three new purebred Inuit sled dog puppies from a breeder in Minnesota.
Annanack, who already runs a team of nine dogs, is eager to see these puppies grow up and join his team. That’s because he finds mixed breed dogs, the kind commonly found in Nunavik, to be less obedient and more aggressive than pure Inuit sled dogs.
“When the owner gets mad at pure sled dogs, the dogs don’t get mad at the owner,” he said. “The dogs we have now, when you get mad at them, they get mad at you.”
Brazeau, the project’s co-promoter isn’t a musher, but he said he was inspired to become involved in the project by last year’s Ivakkak dog team race, whose starting point was in Kangiqsualujjuaq.
“Because I have a truck I was asked to help pick up the teams at the airport,” Brazeau said. “I saw the energy that it generated in town. I saw the kids, running after the truck, asking how many dogs I had, and it was a very positive feeling for the community and the kids.”
After Annanack approached him about the idea of bringing pure bred Inuit sled dogs to Kangiqsualujjuaq, Brazeau started to research breeders.
He found pure Inuit sled dog breeders in Europe and North America — “not a huge population, even though the dogs came from northern Canada and Greenland.” Before getting on the Internet and searching for information, Brazeau said he didn’t even know what a pure Inuit dog looked like because he’d never seen one in Nunavik.
To help in the effort to revive pure Inuit dogs in Nunavik, U.S. breeders donated two of the three puppies sent to Kangiqsualujjuaq. Makivik Corporation and its airlines, First Air and Air Inuit, provided crates and plane tickets to Kangiqsualujjuaq.
“We’re going to start breeding. This is the plan — to repopulate and sustain the breed, without having to bring dogs up,” Brazeau said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time.”
Brazeau and Annanack also want to build on the excitement of having the pure Inuit sled dogs in the community.
As a culture teacher at Ulluriaq, Annanack plans to involve students in all aspects of dog teaming.
But the goal of “Qimmiit Utirtut” doesn’t end there: the project also wants to work with regional and local organizations to establish a Musher Support Program.
In Kangiqsualujjuaq, a pilot program is providing fencing, chains and hardware to mushers, thanks to help from the Hunter Support Program. The community’s Qinirtiq Landholding Corporation is supplying subsidized high-quality dog food.
“It’s a nice project, where you have the school working with the community, with a lot of people taking part,” Brazeau said.
There are already four mushers with dog teams in Kangiqsualujjuaq. But, since Ivakaak 2005 and the arrival of the new Inuit dogs, Annanack has been approached by more residents who are interested in mushing and received many requests for any pure Inuit dogs from the future breeding program. Annanack said about half these requests have come young adults and teens.
Annanack has had dogs since he was 12 or 13. His brother, who took tourists by dog team along the Ungava Bay coast, was his inspiration. He said having a team of his own was “my dream for a long time.”
Annanack believes there is a market for taking tourists out on dog team trips.
“But my first priority is to get the dogs back.”