Quebec's Inuit want a government apology and
financial compensation for a mass slaughter of sled dogs
that they claim plunged their remote communities into
decades of dependency.
More than 500 dogsled teams occupied 15
communities in northern Quebec when the population
totalled 2,500 in 1965. About 10,000 Inuit now reside
north of the 55th parallel in a vast territory known as
Without access to the sled dogs, hunters were
unable to trap and provide income for their families. It
created a level of dependency and physical inaction that
prompted many to drink heavily and simply wait for
monthly welfare cheques. Government officials viewed
stray dogs as a health threat because of rabies. Some of
the animals were also blamed for attacks on people,
including a child who died.
The Inuit say the dogs were far from dangerous
and actually helped save the lives of hunters by guiding
them home in severe snowstorms, rescuing them when they
fell through ice and protecting them from wild animals.
Snow machines replaced the animals. Although they
brought speed to the tundra, the costly devices couldn't
replace the hunting prowess the dogs had provided.
The slaughter of Inuit dogs, known as Qimmiit,
has long been a sore spot for community members. In
2000, Makivik and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association lodged
official complaints with both levels of government and
sought public inquiries.
A new 54-minute film called the “Echo of the Last
Howl,” on the killing of sled dogs open in Kuujjuaq in
January. The film was produced by Makivik Corporation,
which hosted the premiere of the film. Earlier, Makivik
submitted a brief called the “The Slaughtering of
Nunavik Qimmiit” to the federal and provincial
“It seems they just wanted to wipe out the Inuit
by getting rid of their livelihood,” says one elder, one
of some 100 people interviewed for the documentary.
The recollections are mixed with old photographs
and re-creations of sledding that once dominated the
open plains of snow and ice.
Compliant Inuit are seen shepherding their dogs
to a bay where police shot the animals. Mounds of the
dead huskies were later burned.
Dogsledding has experienced a resurgence among
the Inuit since 1999. About 30 teams participate in
recreational races. Few still engage in hunting.
Government of Nunavut confirmed what hunters in Nunavut
have long been waiting for: an increase, by 115 across
the territory, of annual polar bear quotas for the next
“It’s a good news story, and it will benefit our
people,” said Olayuk Akesuk, Nunavut’s minister of
environment. “It’s not about economics, but putting more
polar bear meat on your table.”
The number of polar bears that can be legally
harvested every year in Nunavut is now 518. These
increases mean the total allowable harvest for Nunavut
is close to what it was between 1992 to 1996, when about
500 polar bears were killed a year. The increase
compensates for the loss of the polar bear hunt from the
McClintock Channel, cut from 32 to zero in 2001 after an
aerial survey determined the polar bear population had
taken a nosedive.
The numbers are also higher this year because
Inuit knowledge is being used as a basis for the new
management plans. For years, hunters have said polar
bear numbers are up in several Nunavut populations. More
nuisance bears have been spotted in or near communities.
The management plans and quota numbers are
outlined in memoranda of understanding, or MOUs. They
recommend a total allowable harvest per community based
on the current scientific numbers for the first seven
years after a population survey is done, and Inuit
knowledge for the following seven years. According to
the text of the MOUs, all parties will meet at least
once every seven years “to review and update information
and set direction for the continuing management of polar
A solid MOU package is important because Nunavut,
unlike Nunavik or Greenland, has a U.S.-approved sport
polar bear hunt. Under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection
Act, bearskins and trophies may only be imported from
areas of Canada that have healthy bear populations and a
sustainable hunt — and can prove it to the U.S.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
awarded $55,588 to six groups to participate in the
federal panel review of the Eastmain 1-A and Rupert
diversion project. The funds will help the groups
prepare for participation in the public consultation on
the conformity of the impact statement. During this
phase, the public will be invited to review the content
of the impact statement and determine if the information
presented is complete and conforms to the directives
issued for its preparation. Details on this written
consultation will be transmitted once the impact
statement has been made public in both official
languages. The proponents, Hydro-Québec and its
subsidiary, the Société d'énergie de la Baie James, plan
to submit their impact statement in the early 2005.
The recipients of participant funding are:
Révérence Rupert, the Municipality of Sanikiluaq, Sierra
Club of Canada, the Crees of the Waskaganish First
Nation, the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association and
the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association. The
Eastmain-1-A and Rupert diversion project is located in
northwestern Quebec, east of James Bay. The project
– the diversion of some of the waters (up to 800
m3/s) from the Rupert River watershed into the Eastmain
– the construction of a powerplant (up to 770
MV) on the Eastmain 1 reservoir;
– the addition of structures at the La Sarcelle
site, at the outlet of the Opinaca reservoir.
To achieve this, the project calls for the
construction of four dams, 51 dikes, two diversion bays
flooding an area of 395 km2, 12,000 m of diversion
channels or tunnels and two permanent access roads.
The Kivalliq region’s Meadowbank gold mine project
entered a new stage recently when Cumberland Resources
Ltd. of Vancouver declared that their draft
environmental impact statement, or “EIS,” is now in the
hands of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
For residents of Baker Lake and other Kivalliq
communities, it means they will get a chance to attend
public hearings, ask questions and get more information
about how the mine might affect the environment. The
Meadowbank River drains into the lower Back River and is
a regular route for those canoeing from the Back to the
Cumberland Resources is now at least two years
behind the aggressive schedule they set for themselves
in 2003. At that time, they predicted the Meadowbank
mine would get all its permits by April 2004, enter
construction by March 2005, and produce gold bars by
December 2006. But they’re still predicting that when it
does start up, the mine will last for 12 to 14 years,
and produce at least three million ounces of gold.
The company plans to extract ore from three open
pits, which will overlap with areas now covered by small
lakes. To gain access to the ore that sits beneath those
lakes, Cumberland will build dikes, remove the fish, and
drain the lakes.
They’ll likely use a mixture of ammonium nitrate
and fuel oil to blast ore out of the three open pits.
That easy-to-mix combination is often used by
terrorists, such as the car bomb that Timothy McVey used
in the Oklahoma City bombing, so the company will have
to use special handling and storage methods for its
ammonium nitrate stockpiles.
The biggest open pit, called “Portage,” would
form a huge, oval-shaped gash in the earth: about two
kilometres long, 200 to 400 metres wide, and 175 metres
deep. Nearby, a smaller, rounder pit called “Goose
Island” would be about 150 metres in diameter and 150
The third open pit, called “Vault,” is projected
to be 900 metres long, 600 metres wide and 185 metres
deep, and would sit about 5 km north of the other two.
An on-site mill and processing plant will crush ore into
small pieces so that pure gold can be extracted from it,
and then melted into gold bars. Cumberland will ship the
gold to market on Boeing 737 aircraft that will land and
take off from an on-site jet airstrip.
To help extract every last ounce of gold,
Cumberland will treat some of the ore with cyanide, a
deadly poison. The company says it will take steps to
ensure that none of the cyanide escapes into the
To supply the mine, the company will use a barge
landing facility and storage area several miles east of
Baker Lake. The storage area would hold fuel tanks and
other supplies, which would be transported along a
After getting comments from various stakeholders,
including territorial and federal government agencies,
the company will be expected to produce a final EIS.
After that document is produced, the board will be able
to schedule public hearings, possibly as early as the
fall, Briscoe said.
The company has yet to complete an Inuit impact
and benefits agreement with the Kivalliq Inuit
Association, and the mine may not go ahead until they
The Meadowbank gold mine project already appears
to enjoy wide support among residents of Baker Lake,
where the unemployment rate stands at around 26 per
cent. At a public information session held there in
2003, a member of the community’s hamlet council urged
residents to “forget about the fish and support the
project for the jobs,” according to minutes of the
meeting produced by Cumberland Resources.
To construct the mine, they’ll need about 350 workers.
To operate it, they’ll need about 250. But only a
quarter to a third of those workers are likely to be
Inuit from Baker Lake and the Kivalliq region.