Remembering the slaughter

“I would have been able to pass on my culture if the dog teams still existed”


KUUJJUAQ — After last week’s screening of the Echo of the Last Howl, a film on the killing of Inuit sled dogs during the 1950s and ‘60s, many questions remain about who killed these dogs and why.

But the film clearly shows how the “burning pyramids of dogs” on the ice left an enduring legacy of pain and loss.

After the film’s final credits rolled, dog team owners past and present, who were at the Katittavik community centre and town hall for the film’s première, climbed on stage to speak.

One by one, they talked about their memories of dogs being led out on the ice, where they were shot and burned, while others were fed hunks of poisoned bread. Each man had a different and terrible story to tell, but the message was similar.

“I had to adopt another way of life. After the killing of the dogs, I have seen our way of life disappear… our life has changed,” said Paulusi Padlayat of Salluit, with Ida Saunders interpreting. “As I see it, this is not right. I would have been able to pass on my culture if the dog teams still existed.”

Mattiusi Iyaituk of Ivujivik, president of the Inuit Art Foundation and a world-renowned carver, said half of his Inuit identity was taken away the day his family lost their dogs.

“Half of me lives like a white man,” Iyaituk said.

Former dog team runners also shared a common anger over the killing of the dogs.

“Now, I understand it was an attempt to intimidate us,” said Isaacie Padlayat of Salluit, who is also a board member of Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute. “I want them to apologize.”

Padlayat and several others said they wanted compensation for the loss of their dogs.

“They killed our dogs: we need to be compensated,” said Eli Elijassiapik of Inukjuak.

But exactly what form an apology and compensation will take is still uncertain.

In the film, Makivik’s president Pita Aatami says the slaughter of Inuit dogs “reminded us of the wrongdoing to the Japanese” during the Second World War.

Then, Canadian residents and citizens of Japanese descent were declared “enemy aliens” and taken to internment camps for the duration of the war. All of their property and belongings were sold, without their consent. Towards the end of the war, the Japanese were given the option of “dispersal” to places and towns east of the Rocky Mountains, or “repatriation” to Japan.

On Sept. 22, 1988, The Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was signed, and in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney acknowledged the government’s wrongful actions. Ottawa also offered individual and community compensation to the Japanese Canadians.

The redress document called for individual compensation of $21,000 to Japanese Canadians who were interned and the creation of a $12 million trust that helped established a Canadian race relations foundation.

A brief called “The Slaughtering of Nunavik Qimmiit,” submitted by Makivik to the federal and provincial governments last week, suggests snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and canoes should be legally regarded as tools instead of recreational vehicles by the government and be subject to lower taxes.

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