December 8, 2006

RCMP: Dogs killed for health and safety

Makivik, QIA to work together on “truth” commission

JIM BELL

Whose truth do you believe? And whose belief is true? The longstanding dispute over the killing of Inuit sled dogs in the 1950s and 1960s remains unresolved following the release last week of the final RCMP report on the issue. (FILE PHOTO)

Yes, we killed dogs, the RCMP says.

But their final report on the killing of Inuit sled dogs in 1950s and 1960s also says they did it to protect public health and safety, not as part of a shadowy plot to wipe out Inuit culture in the Eastern Arctic.

“The destruction of Inuit sled dogs, and other dogs, was undertaken by RCMP members for public health and safety reasons, in accordance with the law, to contain canine epidemics, and at times, at the request of the dog’s owners,” the report said.

The RCMP also said they want to find a way of reaching out to Baffin and Nunavik Inuit organizations.

They say they are open to exploring “the possibility of some form of dialogue with the Inuit community aimed at reconciling any differences the alleged dog issue may have highlighted.”

And the RCMP also suggest the unresolved grief that Inuit feel for the loss of their sled dogs is a psychological response to the traumatic loss of the old way of life.

“There is clearly a collective mourning for the loss of the traditional Inuit way of life that was independent and worthy of great respect. The demise of the Inuit sled dog has come, for many, to symbolize the cultural loss of identity and dignity,” the RCMP said.

But in spite of the olive branch offered to them by the RCMP, the Makivik Corp. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association denounced the report almost immediately.

After meeting in Montreal this past Monday and Tuesday, QIA and Makivik officials issued a press release saying the report was “biased, flawed and incomplete.”

The two organizations now say they will work together on setting up a “truth commission,” an idea first floated at QIA’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit this past fall.

In the press release, Pita Aatami, the president of Makivik, implied that some form of conspiracy lay behind the “organized killing” of sled dogs.

“From Kuujjuarapik to the High Arctic, there is clear evidence the RCMP and other persons in authority killed Inuit sled dogs systematically and determinedly,” Aatami said.

Makivik’s own 2005 legal brief, however, does not allege a conspiracy.

That document, submitted to the federal and Quebec governments in January of 2005, alleged negligence instead. It said that between 1955 and 1969 the RCMP, the Quebec provincial police, and other government agencies destroyed Inuit dogs in a negligent, dangerous and abusive manner, and did not effectively consult Inuit.

The archival documents that Makivik cited in its submission refer to safety problems created by loose dogs, and to epidemics of rabies and canine distemper that authorities handled badly.

To compensate Inuit for this incompetence and negligence, Makivik demands money: to pay the costs that Makivik incurred in making its dog slaughter complaints, to compensate Inuit for the loss of dogs and to pay for “appropriate and affordable transportation to allow Nunavik Inuit to maintain their traditional hunting practices.”

The RCMP report also found no documentary evidence to support the allegation, made by some elders, that governments conspired to deprive Inuit of their means of transportation in the winter, confining them within settlements to make it easier for the government to assimilate them into non-Inuit culture.

It said RCMP members, who also used sled dogs to travel, sometimes donated their puppies to Inuit families who lost dog teams to diseases, and that RCMP members sometimes administered inoculations for rabies, distemper and hepatitis.

They also dispute the allegation that 20,000 dogs were destroyed, saying their records show that 20,000 rounds of ammunition were not shipped to RCMP detachments in those years.

To support this they quote Frank Tester, a social historian well-known for sympathizing with Inuit causes. Tester estimates that the Inuit dog population in the Eastern Arctic could not have been higher than 10,000.

For his part, Thomassie Alikatuktuk, the president of QIA, said he doesn’t believe the RCMP report.

“What the RCMP claim as truth is not the truth that Inuit lived. I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes,” Alikatuktuk said.

The RCMP issued its report Nov. 29 in response to a request made in April of 2005 by Anne McLellan, then the minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in Paul Martin’s Liberal government.

McLellan did that after a majority of MPs on the House of Commons aboriginal affairs committee voted for a Bloc Québécois motion that called for a judicial inquiry into the dog slaughter allegations.

Yvon Lévesque, the Bloc MP for James Bay-Nunavik and the Bloc’s aboriginal affairs critic, repeated that demand this week, saying he rejects the conclusions of the RCMP report.

The dog-slaughter issue gained political momentum in January of 2005, when the Makivik Corp. unveiled an emotive documentary film called Echo of the Last Howl.

The film features the tearful recollections of Inuit who watched RCMP and Sûreté du Québec members, as well as teachers, administrators and other authority figures, shoot their dogs in large numbers.

 

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