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Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Mar 28/05) - It's been 45 years, but Iqaluit elder Alisee Joamie continues to be haunted by images of her dead dogs.

"The officer who just shot the dogs touched me and smiled when I felt most unhappy," recalled Joamie. She was one of the elders who told a committee on Aboriginal and Northern Affairs in Ottawa about her dog team being shot outside of Iqaluit early in 1960.

The team was her family's only mode of transportation.

It was a confusing tragedy, never properly explained to her by anyone.

Now Joamie, like a dwindling number of Inuit elders, recalls entire dog teams being slaughtered between 1950 and 1970.

They hope a federal inquiry into what happened will give them answers they have sought for years.

Now that probe is a few steps closer.

A House of Commons standing committee on aboriginal affairs and Northern development has requested the federal government appoint a judge before April 15, 2005, to look into the slaughter of Inuit dogs.

Nunavut MLAs voted unanimously in the Legislative Assembly on March 22 to support calls for a federal probe.

"This issue has caused us pain for many years," said Peter Kattuk, Hudson Bay MLA.

"A judicial inquiry would move us a step closer to healing."

The motion for a judicial inquiry has been put forward to the House of Commons.

However, the federal government is not obligated under its own laws to respond to this motion.

Thomas Alikatuktuk, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), hopes to see the inquiry happen.

Alikatuktuk explained that the issue of dog slaughters has existed in oral tradition for years.

"We hope to document this part of Inuit history so that it is not forgotten and to help better understand how our culture was affected," said Alikatuktuk.

The standing committee in Ottawa heard from Inuit elders, representatives of the RCMP, and MPs on the dog slaughter issue.

Inuit say there was an organized slaughter of their dog teams by the RCMP between the 1950s and 1970s which robbed Inuit of their only mode of transportation, and prevented them from hunting.

During the meetings in Ottawa, RCMP admitted dogs were killed in the North. RCMP records show many dogs were killed in the 1960s after dogs were found to have distemper.

But RCMP firmly denies sled dogs were systematically killed to prevent Inuit from travelling around.

Committee members support Inuit

Many on the committee, like Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Cleary, expressed support of the Inuit on this issue, and didn't buy the RCMP's version of events.

"I prefer to rely on what I heard here from the people who spoke to us," said Cleary. "They are the ones who lived through this experience," said Cleary.

Northern Quebec Senator Charlie Watt had strong words about why he feels this judicial inquiry should move forward.

"We all know that back in the 1950s and 1960s...the government of the day ... had a policy. The system in the country had a policy to slow down the ability of the nomadic people to move around in the country in order to bring their kids into the community to be educated. We all know that," he said.

"That was one of the big factors as to why dogs were slaughtered."

So far, there is no word yet from federal justice minister Anne McLellan whether or she supports the call for the judicial inquiry.

Entered into evidence:

Joanasie Maniapik, now an elder, was living with his family at a camp located outside of Panniqtuuq in 1965. He recalled his experience for the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in Ottawa, March 10:

"Back in 1965 my dogs were killed, around March 13. I had gone to buy supplies using my dog team. My wife was back at the camp, and I was going to go back to my camp the next day. Because I was going to leave the next day, I went to buy supplies right away.

"As I was buying supplies, someone approached me and said my dogs were being shot. I went down to see what was happening and I saw two police officers. There was an officer and an assistant, and all my dogs were dead... I was in so much pain. My life was destroyed. I tried taking their harnesses off. As I was trying to take them off, I was crying."