Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"A Flash Point in Inuit Memories": Endangered Knowledges in the Mountie Sled Dog Massacre

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"A Flash Point in Inuit Memories": Endangered Knowledges in the Mountie Sled Dog Massacre

Article excerpt

DOGS ENJOY THE BROADEST GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION of all four footed creatures, and among mammals the worldwide range of their populations comes second only to humans. Across the millennia following the last ice age, dogs and humans have expanded their territories virtually across the planet, together moving into the predatory niches formerly occupied by wolves. Thus the dog and the human might be seen to vie for the title of The Global Animal, except that our companionship undercuts any sense of contest: our species have only ever been able to claim these positions together.

But a different sense of globalization in recent years has laid bare the vulnerability of our momentous partnership, nowhere perhaps more clearly than in the Canadian Arctic, where the working relationships of people and sled dogs made life possible for both, that is, until recent decades. In Inuktitut, the word qimmiit literally means "many dogs," (1) and, given their historic reliance on their packs working as teams with humans, the word builds into everyday Inuit terminology a special sense of multiplicity that is shared between this kind of canine and the people who have always been so much more to them than mere mushers. The devastation of Inuit culture through the rupture of these relations lies at the heart of the story of how qimmiit today has come to designate both a site of highly endangered knowledges about pre-contact life as well as a rallying point for collective resistance. Amid what David Harvey diagnoses as "the phase of neoliberal globalization" (35), Canadian Inuit efforts to record and honour an understanding of the sled dog as a vital link to life before and beyond market forces are adding an important dimension to a wide-ranging grassroots movement to reclaim the land and sea before they are plundered for shipping and resource extraction.

Within the past decade, through official investigations and an exceptionally unique truth commission project, the series of events popularly termed "the Mountie Sled Dog Massacre" has become documented, and more. Revealing the shameful history of the disappearance of these last remaining indigenous North American dogs from Canada's Eastern Arctic region, the independent Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC)'s website assembles first-hand accounts of how a unique kind of cross-species relationship becomes a flash point for the postwar interventions of the state into indigenous life there. One of several recent investigations of allegations that Canada led a systematic campaign in the mid-twentieth century to exterminate Inuit via their sled dogs, the QTC uncovers no smoking gun. Instead, as one of the few First-Peoples-initiated justice inquiries to date, the QTC innovatively structures collectively Inuit feelings for what it meant to have and to lose the dogs without whom self-sufficient life on their lands and waterways became impossible. It thus enables the articulation of an epistemological difference signaled in the title of the Inuit-produced documentary about the proceedings, Qimmiit: A Clash of Two Truths. Yet, irreconcilable differences between the official Canadian and lived Inuit versions of what caused the disappearance of the dogs are not the end of the story, at least according to the QTC.

Considering the myriad of ways that Inuit people have depended on these dogs, the story of qimmiijaqtauniq--meaning "many dogs (or dog teams) being taken away or killed," and frequently translated now as the Mountie Sled Dog Massacre or, more simply, "the dog slaughter" (QTC 24)--that emerges through the online records and reports of the QTC is exceptional for many reasons. The first Inuit-led and Inuit-sponsored initiative of its kind, the QTC not only makes public an oral history of exterminationist practice that has been officially denied, but it also accounts for how a community's dogs became explicitly identified and consequently feared as a threat to the colonizers. Including testimony from hundreds of Inuit about events concerning dogs that they describe as discrete packs intimately identified with particular people, the project prompts broader concerns about how abstracting notions like "the global animal"--not to mention the "breed" of the dogs in question, whose uniqueness long predates the science of animal husbandry--close down ways of seeing animal and human lives together as sources of political power and, more importantly, as limits to neoliberal globalization. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.