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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic June 27, 2014 - 11:08 am

Taissumani, June 27

The Legacy of Maggie Clay

KENN HARPER

This is the conclusion of the story of Maggie Clay, begun last week.

In the two days between the amputation of her leg and her death, Maggie Clay talked about the accident that had befallen her. Harry Stallworthy’s memory of her conversations was this:

“She talked a lot about the dogs and the attack and which of the dogs had tasted blood. She hadn’t been in the least afraid of them as they ran and jumped playfully around her. But it was the black dog Clay had brought from Labrador which had snatched at her coat, then took a nip at her leg. Then she knew she was in trouble. Talking it over with us, she became insistent on the subject that the dogs which had been involved in the attack must be destroyed; that this must be done at once to protect the women and especially the children, who were accustomed to playing with the dogs on the beach.”

Stallworthy and Corporal Petty shot 19 dogs from the police teams. In addition Norman Snow shot some of the Bay’s dogs. They didn’t do this gladly because the loss of dogs would hamper travel in the coming winter. Only the following summer were the teams brought up to full strength again, when a number of new dogs arrived from Labrador.

Was there a long-term legacy of Maggie Clay’s tragic death? I think so.

Much has been written about the “slaughter” of Inuit dogs, primarily by RCMP officers. Much effort has also been expended in searching the relevant archives for the “smoking gun” – evidence of a government policy to systematically kill the Inuit dogs, and thereby force Inuit to abandon their camps and congregate in settlements where government could provide health care and education, and – not incidentally – welfare payments.

But no smoking gun has been found for there was no such policy. Indeed, such a policy would have been in contradiction to the overarching social and economic themes of the times – self-reliance, a belief that Inuit should be supporting themselves through hunting.

But this is not to say that dogs were not sometimes killed by RCMP officers. Why? By the late 1960s most Inuit had moved in to settlements where they could avail themselves of government services. The snowmobile had been introduced by the HBC, and would soon replace most working dog teams.

But there were lots of dogs in the communities and many of them were loose. Local directives were issued by settlement managers that dogs must be tied, for safety reasons. Loose, they posed a danger, especially to children, and there are many recorded deaths of children ripped apart by ravenous sled dogs.

Most communities had a community council of sorts, and local leaders were engaged to spread the word that dogs had to be tied. Most team owners complied.

But dogs sometimes got loose. And they were shot. Sometimes by the local police, if the community had a detachment, sometimes by the settlement managers themselves, and sometimes by local Inuit who were appointed “dog officers.” The result was that fewer children were killed or injured.

Did the RCMP, in particular, sometimes go too far and kill dogs unnecessarily? Yes. Not everywhere and not always. And not as a matter of policy, because there was no such policy. But individual officers had a great deal of discretion in such local matters. Some went too far.

Why?

Well, in every profession and in every society, there are always a few “bad apples.” Some officers abused the authority they had been given, sometimes blatantly and maliciously, sometimes in ignorance of the dire economic consequences that would follow were a hunter to be deprived of the means of travel.

And then — in my opinion — there was the Mrs. Clay effect. I first came north in the mid-60s. Maggie Clay had died four decades earlier, but her death was still fresh in the minds of police officers of all ages, who had heard from their superiors over the years of the horrible tragedy that befell the wife of one of their own so many years earlier.

This was police lore, passed down in conversation from veteran officers to young recruits. I have heard many officers over the years talk about the death of Maggie Clay as if it had only happened yesterday.

In my opinion, some who heard this story over the years were bound to err on the side of caution. They shot dogs that needn’t have been shot.

The irony, of course, is that Maggie Clay wasn’t killed by Inuit dogs; she was killed by the police detachment’s own dogs.

I haven’t heard anyone talk about Maggie Clay for a long time now. I don’t know if her story was ever mentioned in the hearings undertaken by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association into the alleged “dog slaughter,” for I didn’t attend, nor did I make any written submission.

But Maggie Clay’s story is instructive for this issue; it needs to be remembered.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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