The fifteenth annual Ivakkak, a traditional Inuit sled dog race held in Nunavik, Quebec, is off and running, as twelve teams make their way down the Ungava coast.

The race was established in 2001 as an attempt to revitalize sled dog culture among Nunavik residents. Unlike sled dog races like the Iditarod, Inuit sled dogs pull a wider sled across tundra terrain, rather than race trails. Two participants make up each team with one or both often running alongside the sled to guide the dogs. 

The dogs used in teams for the Ivakaak are Inuit sled dogs, or qimmiq, recognized as one of North America's oldest pure breed domestic canines.

"The objective is to promote the traditional dog sleds, and to promote bringing back the traditional activities of the dog sled," said Andy Moorhouse, vice president of economic development for Makivik Corporation, which represents Inuit in Quebec. 

"To teach the younger generation... and to continue and revitalize the Inuit culture of our transportation."

The participating teams, which represent five different communities in Nunavik, began the race in the community of Quaqtaq on March 31. The race route will see them travel down the western coast of Ungava Bay, stopping in four different communities before finishing in Kuujuaq.

Nunavik residents turn out in droves to support the racers, and large crowds are expected to both welcome them into and see them off from each checkpoint.

"Every community is going to have a great crowd," said Moorhouse. "Everybody is always welcome to attend."

As of Friday, April 1 — the latest results available as of writing — the team of Willie Cain Jr. and Daniel Cain Annahatak, from the community of Tasiujiaq were leading the pack. The teams made their way into Kangnirsuk on Friday, marking the end of the first of three race legs.

Moorhouse says he expects the race to take about 10 days.

with files from Jordan Konek