Solid oral research needed on dog slaughter issue
For nearly five years Inuit organizations in Nunavut and Nunavik have been making an issue out of the infamous “dog slaughters” that took place in many Nunavut and Nunavik communities in the 1950s and 1960s.
The central allegation is that federal government officials ordered the systematic slaughter of Inuit dogteams to prevent Inuit from leaving the new communities that the government was creating all over the Arctic at that time. Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Makivik Corporation are suggesting that dogteams were destroyed as a means of destroying the nomadic Inuit way of life – remove the means of transportation, and you remove the ability to hunt.
The two organizations have been talking about this issue for a fairly short period of time. But Inuit have been talking to each other about it for many years. The memories are bitter, and the resentment is deep, especially as the dog slaughter stories are passed from one generation to the next.
QIA and Makivik are asking for an apology and compensation.
However, some government officials say the dogs were slaughtered for health and safety reasons – to protect people from rabies and canine distemper during a period when disease epidemics were still sweeping through the population.
What really happened?
Some superficial information about the dog slaughter is likely stored in a variety of public archives and other collections of old government documents.
But the first-hand evidence produced by collecting the oral recollections of Inuit could be crucial in resolving the issue and painting a clear picture of what happened.
That’s how the protracted struggle for compensation of the High Arctic exiles was finally resolved. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples appointed Shelagh Grant, a historian at Trent University, to research the issue in a way that combined the oral recollections of Inuit with information found in government documents.
After giving due weight to the oral evidence provided by Inuit informants, Grant found that the High Arctic exiles had been telling the truth, basically. This was instrumental in pressuring the federal government into offering a $10-million compensation fund to the exiles and their descendants.
If it worked once, why not do it again? The two Inuit organizations, and, with any luck, the federal government, should each contribute to the cost of a thorough, well-organized research project that combines Inuit oral recollections with government documents.
In an essay published last year in a book called Northern Visions, Grant said that few Canadian historians are doing research in Inuit history, and even fewer are doing oral history projects.
Perhaps now might be a time to create an opportunity for someone to do just such project.