Magazine article Anglican Journal

The Day the Dogs Died: Everything Changed after the RCMP Shot the Inuit Dogs

Magazine article Anglican Journal

The Day the Dogs Died: Everything Changed after the RCMP Shot the Inuit Dogs

Article excerpt

ALLEGING THAT the large dog populations in Inuit villages posed both health and safety hazards, Canadian authorities ordered the RCMP to shoot as many as 20,000 sled dogs in Inuit communities during the 1950s and 60s. By that act, they wiped out one of the fundamental underpinnings of the traditional Inuit way of life and sparked a decline that continues today. For centuries, dogs were essential to the Inuit for hunting, companionship, transportation and interaction with other communities.

Speaking at the recent Vancouver conference "Sharing Truth," lawyer Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut, presented heart-wrenching highlights from the Qikiqtani (Baffin) Truth Commission (QTC) findings, published in its final report, Achieving Saimaqtigiiniq ("peace with past opponents"). Redfern was the exective director of the QTC until it finished its mandate in 2010.

According to Inuit testimony presented to the QTC, a family's dog team was not only its principal means of livelihood but also an important symbol of pride. "If an Inuk man didn't have a team of his own, it was interpreted that he was yet not quite a man," said witness Pauloosie Veevee. "An Inuk was judged in accordance with the dogs' performance, appearance, health and endurance. If the dogs looked well-fed and well-mannered, the owner was seen as a great hunter and admired by others. If an Inuk man's dog team was notably happy and well-fed, they would be able to take him long distances [and were] aids to his independence and masculinity. That is how important dogs were to Inuit."

Another witness testified that her husband mysteriously and profoundly changed the day his dogs were shot. He refused to tell his family what had happened to the team but became despondent and then abusive toward his family. Robbed of his livelihood, the man became morose and alcohol-dependent. "When he finally gave his testimony at the QTC, he broke down and revealed what had happened to the dogs. His wife finally understood what had happened all those years ago," said Redfern.

The canine slaughter left deep wounds. In community after community, Inuit witnesses told the QTC--often through tears--"I remember the day my dogs were shot," or "I remember when my father's dogs were killed." The pain still felt from these memories testifies to the symbiotic relationship between the Inuit and these animals, whose loss undermined their independence and identity as hunters.

According to the QTC's report, some Inuit doubted that health and safety were the only impetus for the killings since culling problem dogs and widespread immunization and sterilization could have addressed these concerns. They believed that government felt it would be easier to get the Inuit to relocate once deprived of their livelihoods in their traditional homelands.

The public inquiry was launched in 2007 to create an accurate history of the events that affected Inuit living in the Baffin Region from 1950 to 1975, and to document their impact on Inuit life. …

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