The team arrived in Qaanaaq. Naimangitsoq, Qitdlutoq, Louise and Hans have discussed the journey. – I have limited vocabulary in their language, so it was good to have an interpreter in the evaluation, says Hans. – Among other things, we discussed the dogs and how we can train dogs for this extreme kind of strain. Apparently, the dogs handled this well, in my view, but if the hunters are not satisfied, there are reasons to listen to them. I enjoyed the discussion, Hans conclude in the voice mail.
For thousands of years the Inuit have trained this dog on the walrus diet and in the hard conditions to be the toughest dog on on the planet. This dog has been standing by his people through famine and extreme weather since prehistoric times. With the help of this dog, hunters have chased down the great white bear with weapons no better than primitive spears.
We have let behind us 48 tough hours. It was between minus 20 and 30 degrees celsius all the time. The dogs were worn out when we reached the ice sheet. The wind blew a lot so we made an igloo. All the sleds were destroyed by all the rocks, so we had to rebuild them in the camp. During the next night we went up on top of the glacier – dogs still tired from the struggle the day before. Even my polar eskimo friends said it felt cold – with a gale and minus 25 degrees. Then we met a thick fog down south, with made it pretty difficult to find the best way. We did good speed over the crevasses. Fortunately we made it back. Now we are tired.
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 Dog.it 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.
In a previous short note on this website “Towards the Glacier”, I was referring to our strong dogs raised in Qaanaaq and how they are pulling the 500 kg sledge up to the top of the glacier with good speed. I also referred to the one who first told us Norwegians about the Greenland dog and dogsled-driving, Eivind Astrup – and one article which briefly sum up the importance of Astrup and the history about him. I regret that I did not write the full name of the author of the only biography about Astrup, or quote the short article correct. Anyway: To find out more about Astrup, we highly recommend to read “Polarforskeren Eivind Astrup. En pioner blant nordpolens naboer”, by Tom Bloch-Nakkerud, (Bastin, 2011). Unfortunately, it is only in Norwegian. The article in English that gives a summary of Astrups importance, most probably based on this biography, is Astrups Harness, written by Jonas Warme Moe (The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, Volume 12, Number 1, December 2012). The Fan Hitch sorts out a lot of resources about the Inuit Dog, but also contains articles that makes it easier for us to research topics.
Astrup found that in order to travel fast and safe by dogsleds, you must raise the dogs good, train them, treat them- and feed them well. That is exactly what the polar eskimo do today; what the hunter do who try to live from hunting alone. Without his dogs, he can’t go hunting. To have dogs, he needs to hunt to feed them. Astrup told the Norwegian people 120 years ago how the dogs were fed with blubber and meat from walrus, and how this diet made the dogs stronger and bigger than any dogs he had seen. These dogs still get the same food as in Astrups days, from the same people who told Astrup about dogsleds.
Some people, far, far away from Qaanaaq, have for the last fifteen years or so developed politics designed to stop the polar eskimo from hunting walrus and other animals. That means he should stop having dogs. Without dogs he must quit seal hunting. Stop hunting polar bear. Stop making sealskin kamiks, sealskin gloves, polar bear trousers. Then he don’t have to tell stories from hunting anymore to his children. Make songs about seals. Give his wife feedback on her sewing, based on his latest hunt in a midwinter gale. His wife does not need to repair clothes anymore. Or even make them at all. In the Nanoq project, the Inuit participants will try to present this circle to decision makers, to make them understand that what they really demand is “STOP BEEING AN POLAR ESKIMO! STOP LIVING! DISAPPEAR!
When I first experienced how easy the strong dogs raised in Qaanaaq are pulling the 500 kg sledge up to the top of the glacier (in good weather), I was thinking about the work of Eivind Astrup (1871-1895). He learned how the Greenland dogs and the sledge outrange any other transport vessel in the polar Arctic. Astrup crafted sleds for the Peary expedition – copied from the nearby Inuit families, families related to our expedition members. His writings reveals a deep respect and understanding of the local Inuit culture.
From his second expedition, Eivind brought back to Norway with him four Greenland Dogs. These were the first in Norway and he raised them on a small island in the Oslo Fjord. When the dogs were old enough he trained them on the iced sea outside Oslo. The ash sledge they pulled was his own native-inspired design and built by experienced Norwegian sledge carpenters.
Read more about Astrup in the biography, or use this link to the article by Jonas Warme Moe:
Reports from the Nanoq-expedition shows how difficult it is to maintain the old cultural dogsled journeys that used to keep people around Baffin Island in contact with each other, people who are closely related in language and culture. Nanoq cant’t go northwest along the shore, but must straight north. That means crossing the glacier into Inglefield Land! Everyone knows that the ice sheet on Greenland is melting. But new research shows it is disappearing much faster than previously thought. For the hunters in the Baffin Bay region, the result is that fjords and bays are covered with ice much later than before. Shorter hunting season means less chances for outcome for people and dogs.
Avigaq enjoys a cup of tea during a break. He is the sixt and last member in the dogsled-team that have signed in the Nanoq-team. Still in his early 20ies, he likes to party with his friends. But he has gained much experience as a hunter and trapper, and would like to do that most of the time if he could decide. He helps the Nanoq Expedition with his sled and his good dogs to get up on top of the glacier, before we run down to the Inglefield Land in the North.