A dissertation on an extraordinary aboriginal working dog that enabled humans to explore Earth’s polar regions.
Ottawa, Ontario–based librarian Han was introduced to Canadian Inuit dogs by her late daughter, Siu-Ling Han, who lived on Baffin Island, part of Canada’s Arctic archipelago. Siu-Ling bred and raised her dogs according to Inuit traditions and led her hearty sled teams on treks through hundreds of miles along the Arctic tundra. The author began this debut volume as a course assignment at the Institute for Children’s Literature, and it resulted in a full-length, in-depth compendium that explores the importance of this unique dog to traditional Inuit culture. In Inuktitut, the Inuit language, the word for dog is “qimmiq,” and dogs have a special status that’s separate from the rest of the animal kingdom. Aboriginal dogs are domesticated, but they’ve “never been developed by any planned genetic manipulation,” according to an academic paper by Vladimir Beregovoy that Han quotes. The dogs and the ancestors of the Inuit people shared a seminomadic lifestyle for at least 1,000 years; however, the second half of the 20th century brought disease, societal changes, and snowmobiles, which posed challenges to the animals’ survival. For example, cultural misunderstandings resulted in the deaths of thousands of Inuit dogs over multiple decades; wandering canines were killed by officials who saw them as threats to the public. In this book, Han relies heavy on meticulously sourced, secondary research, which is truly comprehensive. However, the use of in-text references sometimes interrupts the flow of the narrative. Similarly, the author’s extensive discussion of scientific nomenclature for various dog breeds is unlikely to interest many casual readers. Serious dog enthusiasts, however, will find that there’s a wealth of information to be found, including a detailed breakdown of external and internal physiological features that distinguish Inuit dogs and enable them to thrive in Arctic environments. Han’s interviews with Inuit elders are especially captivating, as are the many full-color photos that she includes of the dogs and their surroundings.
A poignant, engaging, and illuminating tribute to a vanishing breed.