Puurtaq Project


In winter, dogsleds were the most important instrument of survival, just as qajaqs were in the summer. This is what the Elders tell us:

In a dogteam, each dog had his own place pulling the sled. First of all there was the lead dog, usually a female, and then there was the last dog, in the back. There were usually 10 to 12 dogs in a team. If a person wanted to prepare a puppy to become a lead dog, they would put the puppy inside a parka and let it find it’s way out the sleeve — that was how it would learn to lead.

Mud was applied to the sled runners to make them slide better. Each day, the girls or boys had to check the weather, even before they had had a bite to eat. The men were going hunting, and this was always the most important consideration because it meant food for the Inuit and their dogs. But before setting out, each day began with a prayer. The girls were in charge of preparing the dog leads, even if it was bitterly cold, because the hunters couldn’t be bothered with that; they had a more important job. In the spring, the children put boots on the dogs so they wouldn’t cut their paws on the ice. The boots were made from old pieces of qajaq skins, and the children had to be careful to lace them onto the right paws, otherwise they would fall off. Sometimes the hunters spent days out on the bay, sometimes a whole week. And when they went to hunt caribou, it was a month or more before they returned to camp.

Sometimes they came back with nothing, sometimes not. When the hunters returned, the children unloaded the qamutiks and put away the equipment. They cleaned the leads and hung them up far from the dogs, ready for the next hunting trip.

When a hunter found himself in a blizzard, and could not see even ten feet, the dogs always knew the way back to camp.

Whatever the hunters caught, nothing was wasted. Even the bones and marrow were used, and the food was divided among the whole camp.