This blog is part of our Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada series. To read this blog post in Inuttut, visit the e-book.
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by Jennelle Doyle
Dog sledding has remained at the core of Inuit communities since time immemorial; the use of dog sleds and dog teams is one of many reasons why Inuit are historically such good navigators of the nuna (land). Inuit learned to read the land over time, using their Kimutset (dog teams) to travel long distances, hunt, collect firewood and carry out many other tasks essential to everyday life in Labrador. Kimutset were our ambulances, our freight carriers, our food transporters and our vehicles. Without them during winter, all we had was our feet.
A Kimutsik (dog team) consists of anywhere from 2 to 12 or more Kimmet (husky dogs), depending on what is being towed. The Kimmet are tethered to a Kamutik (sled) by means of an anuk (harness), which is most often made from anuksak (usually sealskin made into harness). Today, anuksak is less commonly used, and rope or cord is favoured.Over sea ice, the fan-type anuk is utilized, so that the Kamutik moves more smoothly over the uneven surface. A tandem anuk, where the Kimmet pull single file, is used on occasion, usually in areas with more trees. As you can imagine, not having a Kimutsik in the past was very limiting and, in some cases, dangerous if you could not get out on the nuna/nunak for supplies or to hunt.
Although many mushers have adopted English commands for their Kimutsik, Inuttut commands are still used today. Inuttut commands are being reintroduced in some communities as Inuit highlight the importance of speaking their ancestral language in day-to-day life. Some notable commands are â! (stop!), au/auk (right), ha’ra (left), hau (come), huit! (go! or mush!) and kimmik (heel). Note the important distinction between the capitalized K and the lowercase k in the Roman orthography of Inuttut (Labrador dialect): Kimmik means dog, and kimmik means “a heel.” The two words sound different as well; the first word has an initial “h”-like sound.
Kimmet generally stay outside all year. When my great-grandmother was a child, a sled dog could commonly be seen sleeping on top of an illuk/illusuak (sod house) in aujak (summer). Today, you can find sled dogs in pens or near the sea ice. They are fed KimmiKutitsiak/KimmiKautitsak (dog food), which consists of mainly country food scraps like caribou and arctic char. Utsuk (seal fat) provides Kimmet with energy while keeping them warm in the cold months of ukiuk (winter) and giving them a nice coat.
Then and now
In the early days, settlers who came to Labrador relied heavily on Inuit sled dog guides and locals for survival. The Grenfell Mission, a medical mission in Labrador, established in the late 1800s by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, would never have reached the majority of Labrador communities and some northern Newfoundland communities had it not been for Inuit guides and their Kimutset. This reliance is outlined in many mission diaries, though Grenfell eventually learned enough about sled dogs to have his own team.
Inuit continue to adjust to an ever-changing environment. The introduction of the snowmobile has certainly led to a decline in the number of dog teams, but you will still find Kimutsik (dog-sled team) across Inuit Nunaat/Nunangat. Dog sledding is now highly recreational, and a favourite tourist attraction in the North. This is a good thing; it supports Inuit mushers and, thus, Inuit families, cultural preservation and practice. There are also annual heritage races in some communities as well as at the Labrador Winter Games, held every three years in Happy Valley–Goose Bay for all communities in Labrador.
- Anuk – harness
- Anuksak – harness made from sealskin
- Kamutik – sled
- Kimmet – husky dogs (sled dogs)
- Kimmik – husky dog (sled dog)
- kimmik – heel (command for dogs)
- KimmiKutitsiak/KimmiKautitsak – dog food
- Kimutset – dog teams
- Kimutsik – dog team
- Utsuk – seal fat
Labrador Inuttut Dictionary
Jennelle Doyle was an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices initiative at Library and Archives Canada. Jennelle grew up in Churchill Falls, Labrador, her family being from both the south coast of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland.