The Inuit Circumpolar Documentary

Grenlandic Law Stops Cultural Dogsled Expedition

The Nanoq team is back on Greenlandic soil after a brief visit on the Canadian side of the border. Ironic, it is not allowed for polar eskimoes to visit their cultural “brothers and sisters” in Canada like their forefathers have done for hundreds of years. To me, this makes just the same amount of sense as to prohibit the sami people to cross the border between Norway and Finland, to visit each other by reindeer-sleds.

The Greenlandic “Landstinget” does not prohibit cultural meetings. But with dogs and sleds, it is impossible, as I will explain here. And based on our interviews with hunters and wives of hunters, this is just one out of many effective obstacles put in the way of those who try to keep alive traditions.

In the Nanoq project we also document the relations between the inuit and the dog. As a matter of fact, this relation is the reason why we choose to travel by dogsleds from Greenland to Canada. We want focus on the way Inuit in Northern Greenland are treated by their own government.

The numbers of violations are shocking to me as a Norwegian raised in the Northern part of Norway, used to hear about all the rights of Indigenous Peoples from childhood. I early became aware of violations against the sami people. But I can’t understand the treatment the Greenlandic government gives the polar eskimo.

Here, I will start with one example. In The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, there are a number of interesting articles. Like, when we from now refer to the Greenland dog, we mean the dog brought to the country by the Thule culture. This happened in 1100 A. D. (Hanne Friis Andersen from Greenland Dog / Inuit makes no difference (The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, Volume 7, Number 4, September 2005). This culture also brought the language, and this relatively rapid cultural movement from Alaska to Greenland is the reason why Knud Rasmussen could make himself understood with his Greenlandic Kalaallisut language in most of the places he visited during his 5th Thule Expedition (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921-24: The Danish Expedition to Arctic North America, Volum 1. Gyldendal 1945).

The reason why I now will get back to the article by Hanne Friis Andersen is because it is prohibited to import any dogs to the dog sled district of Greenland. In fact, to quote Friis Andersen, “if dogs are taken out of the country, they are not allowed back in again. Why this policy? To keep the breed pure”.

Andersen did a Master Thesis on the subject, and found there is no reason to think of the inuit Dog from Canada and the Greenland Dog as separated. “Rather, they are populations of the same dog breed”.

So, why then prohibit the polar eskimo to visit his friends and relatives in Grise Fiord, by traveling like his parents did, with their dogs and sleds? Why make it impossible for them to have a reunion the old, cultural way?

This question needs an answer. Thats why the Nanoq project, fronted by four hunters from the Qaanaaq area, this spring asked the veterinaries in Nuuk for a special permission to go visiting Grise Fiord by dogsleds. The answer is still: No.

Torgeir S. Higraff


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