Thursday Tidbits

Posted on September 10, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Feeding time for a member of a sled dog team


WARNING. Some might find this story about the slaughter of sled dogs disturbing.

It has often been said that a dog is man’s best friend. This quote is attributed to King Frederick of Prussia in 1789. Our family had a dog when we were growing up as did many of our neighbors which was rather surprising because many of the families were large, often with 7 or more children. It was hard enough to feed the family let alone a four-legged critter. Of course, when liver was on the menu for supper, Chipper did quite well with the leftovers.

The vast majority of dog owners are enamored with their canine friends. Dogs are loyal companions and are always by our sides in good times and bad. And they never answer back!

But what if your dog was an important part of your daily survival? This is a completely different ball game.

For generations, sled dogs were an integral part of the Arctic. Until they weren’t. In the 1950s and 1960s, the RCMP and government officials undertook a massive cull of sled dogs. In order to try and begin to understand the wrongs done to the Inuit people of the north, I refer to the book “The Right to be Cold”by distinguished Inuit author, Sheila (Siila)Watt Clouthier.

Here is a summary and paraphrasing of the key points surrounding the slaughter of the sled dogs according to Siila:

“Government officials claimed that a number of dogs had been infected with canine distemper, and that some of the sick animals had attacked people. The Inuit were told that the dogs were being sent south for” health care”. The dogs never returned. More often, they instructed hunters to bring their dogs to a designated spot. The animals were not inspected for illness, no questions were posed about their health or behaviour. No permission was asked of the owners. The dogs were simply shot. In some instances, the carcasses were thrown in piles and burnt. All of this happened in view of their shocked owners.

Some men had come from outpost camps and watched as their only means of transport, their only way to get back to their families, was destroyed before their eyes. Otheres said that they were preparing to go hunting, and their dogs were shot and killed as they stood harnessed to their sleds. In all, over 1200 dogs were destroyed. And while the official explanation given at the time was that they were culled to prevent the spread of distemper and attacks by sick dogs, many now suspect that the destruction of the dog teams was another way to force Inuit families to move from outpost camps into settlements by removing their only mode of transportation.

While we are hunters, we kill animals only for food. Senseless killing is not accepted in our culture.”

I am grateful to Siila for giving me permission to quote from her book.

Last week, I had the privilege of watching a friend, who’s a colleague, feed a team of sled dogs. There are a handful of dog teams in the village and I have had the thrill of watching them zip across frozen tundra on the coldest days of the winter. Every time I see them or hear their mournful wails on quiet nights, I think back to this tragic chapter of the history of people living in the north.

The scars of colonization, residential schools, and the killing of the sled dogs, still exist today.

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