About six years ago, Iqaluit resident Amber Aglukark was introduced to the world of dog teams. Being a dog lover since she was a little girl — she was thrilled to start.
She learned how to feed and run with the dogs, along with their basic care and maintenance. Now, she works with a team of 10, and for the first time this year was able to join a dog sled gathering where she could meet others in the community.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents over 15,500 Inuit, organized its first ever Qimuksiqtiit Regional Gathering in Iqaluit. It gave dog mushers the opportunity to gather this past week and to share knowledge and celebrate dog sledding.
Aglukark said she went to the conference to build on the knowledge she's gained.
"I'm still young and I'm still very keen to continue passing on my experiences, my newfound skills to my own son, and my friends and family," she said. "I'm here so that I could gain more to share, more to continue passing on our culture."
The event was a result of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which among many things, examined past culls of sled dogs by RCMP and how colonialism has damaged Inuit culture.
That commission sparked an apology from the federal government in 2019. According to a QIA news release, $2.9 million dollars was made available for program revitalization involving Inuit sled dogs — which are called qimmitt in Inuktitut — over the next seven years across the region.
The Qimuksiqtiit Regional Gathering is thought of by participants as a step forward on the journey to strengthen an important cultural practice.
"QIA is thrilled to finally bring together dog teamers for this important event," QIA President Olayuk Akesuk said in a news release. "To be able to connect and share knowledge, we hope to inspire the next generation of dog teamers amongst Qikiqtani Inuit."
Aglukark said the dog team she helps run belong to Paul Crowley and Lynn Peplinski. She said having a team is a lot of work, and it's important people are passionate about it if they plan to have one.
"It's basically having the energy and the keenness and that passion to fulfil going out every day to see your dogs," she said. "The amount of food, the maintenance and the dynamic of being able to have and show that passion every single day that you go into your dogs — like your energy is everything."
Devon Manik from Resolute Bay said he was invited to come to the event and was happy to show up and meet other dog mushers from all over the North.
"I get to meet people that I've only seen through photos. And I get to share my experience of how I started [and] I'm what I'm doing now," Manik said.
Manik said he didn't realize how many dog teams there were until this gathering. His team, made up of 15 dogs, is part of his livelihood. He's a full-time hunter, and uses his dogs to hunt polar bears, walrus, seals and muskox.
"During the spring and summer I was living off hunting, I was selling skins and walrus tusks," he said.
Now, he'll be able to keep making a living off it through a QIA pilot program that allows him to hunt with his dogs for the community.
"If we catch something, we could keep it for our dogs or we can give it to people in town," he said.
Aglukark said part of the reason for the gathering is for dog team owners to voice their needs. There are roughly 13 teams in Iqaluit, and she said she's noticing more youth becoming involved with the dog team community.
"They have a desire to help and learn and understand the hard work that is put into dog team ownership," she said.
"Something that I'd like to see is kind of more programming, workshops led by locals or elders or youth from other communities."
Aglukark said that could include bringing other dog team experts, like Manik, to Iqaluit to teach, to "hang out with the kids here" and to pass on his skills.
"I hope to see more partnership within our communities because ... there's definitely a lot more to learn from other communities that could be useful here."